Graduated Driver’s Licensing (GDL) laws are in place to help teenage drivers get much-needed practice and experience before receiving the full license that will allow them to drive independently. However, under these laws, parents need to spend time with their teenagers behind the wheel to help them learn how to navigate the complex task of driving.
Most GDL laws require around 40 to 50 hours of driving time for young drivers to receive an intermediate license, which will allow them a few additional freedoms, such as driving alone. At Horn Law, we urge parents to require more than the minimum recommended hours. In fact, we actually recommend a minimum of 60 hours, with at least 10 of those being completed during nighttime hours. Additionally, these 60 hours should be spread over various road conditions, such as rain, snow, heavy traffic, and high winds.
In many states, there is no requirement for teenagers to keep a driving practice log. However, as driving safety advocates, we always recommend documenting all of your practice sessions in a log. Not only will a practice log make it easy to verify that your child has met your state’s minimum requirements, but it will also allow you to see the areas where your teen might need more practice. For example, if they have only practiced driving in the rain for half an hour, you will want to find another opportunity to drive in wet conditions.
What Does an Optimal Driving Practice Session Look Like?
You can talk about safe driving until you are blue in the face, but what experienced drivers really need is practice. Parent-led practice sessions are the only ones that most teenagers receive. For this reason, you want your teen to get the most out of each practice session as possible. But what should your practice sessions with your teen look like? Let’s take a look at an optimal driving practice session.
First, as the parent, it is your job to set the tone of the driving session. Many parents express that they feel nervous, but your job is to take a calm, rational approach to practice. If you are feeling nervous, your teen will, too. To get off on the right foot, we recommend only practicing when you can devote your full attention to the lesson. You don’t want to be thinking about work or your grocery list, taking a phone call, or already under emotional stress.
The same goes for your teenager. If they are stressed about sports or school, you will want to hold off on practicing. A stressed or anxious teenager is more likely to make mistakes and get frustrated. Calm practice sessions will benefit them far more and practicing under stress could turn your teenager off of driving.
When you are both able to be fully present, each lesson should start with a review of our ABCDs of safe driving. Remind your teenager to stay alert, buckled, cautious, and defensive when behind the wheel. Talk through each point and ask your teenager to state the ABCDs back to you.
Your next step will be getting ready for take-off. Teach your teen how to adjust the mirrors and get all controls set up before they drive away to prevent distractions such as fiddling with the temperature, radio, or mirrors while driving.
When your teenager is finally driving, you will want to give them basic directions. For example, you could say, “Using your right foot, apply pressure to the brake pedal and start the car. Put the car in drive and slowly release your foot from the brake. Slowly accelerate, still using your right foot and get up to the speed limit.” What might seem second nature to you is all new to them. Your teen might not realize that they should use their right foot for both the brake and accelerator.
So, even if a direction seems really elementary, it is important to go over it with your inexperienced driver. It isn’t second nature to them in the same way it is for you. And you will be surprised of the things that your teen doesn’t know that you think they do. When your teen has questions, take the time to provide a thorough answer. It is better to keep providing too much information to a novice driver.
Taking a Gradual Approach
We also recommend a gradual process throughout the time your teen is learning to drive. By this, we mean that you start in an empty parking lot. Allow your teen to get comfortable with how the vehicle handles. You can then move on to the neighborhood or side streets to introduce intersections and following basic traffic laws.
With each lesson, you can move on to bigger tasks. After your teen has mastered driving around the neighborhood, you can move on to two- and three-lane roads with stop and go traffic. This is a great time to focus on safety at traffic lights.
When your teen is comfortable driving on city streets, it is time to learn how to get on and off the highway. Before you unleash highway driving, you should start by having them enter the highway and exit again immediately. This will teach a foundation of getting up to speed and merging on to the highway, and slowing down as they exit the highway. After all of this, you can move on to more extended highway driving, where you can talk about changing lanes at higher speeds, passing safely, and scanning the road ahead of the vehicle.
Here is a great resource from State Farm about taking a gradual approach to driving lessons and what should happen at the beginning and what should come later as your teen becomes more advanced.
Logging Your Teen’s Driving Time
Not all states will require your teen to keep a practice log, but Horn Law recommends keeping one regardless of whether or not it is required. We encourage tracking practice because it allows you to see where there are gaps in your teen’s driving education. Additionally, you can be sure that your teen has met the minimum driving requirements for your state when you are carefully tracking driving hours.
After looking at many driving logs, we have realized that not all driving practice logs are created equally. For this reason, we have created our own log for parents and teens to use.
Using our practice log, you will be reminded to go over the ABCDs of driving at each session. Additionally, you will see places to comment on the road conditions and routes taken during the session, allowing you better to see holes in your young driver’s education, allowing you to fill those gaps prior to your teen obtaining an intermediate driver’s license.
You can download this driving log here.
Learn more about teen driving safety with the other blogs in our series:
Drive By Example: Show Your Teens How to Drive Safely
Teen Driver Safety: Protect Your Teen from a Car Crash
Why So Many People Aren’t Wearing Seat Belts
Why Glove Boxing the Phone Is the Best Example a Parent Can Set
Why Defensive Driving is the Best Thing Parents Can Teach Their Teen Drivers
Teach Your Teen Driver About These 5 Hidden Dangers
Enforce the Missouri GDL Law for Your Teen Drivers
Make Safe Driving a Household Priority