The driver’s license: Perhaps nothing represents teen freedom more than that document saying you can go wherever you want without having your parents or someone else drive you there. But times have changed from the day when driving autonomy was granted to any 16-year-old who could pass the DMV’s tests. Now, some states are requiring parents to take a form of driver’s education alongside their teens.
Back when yours truly was taking driver’s ed classes in the summer before my sophomore year of high school — complete with those clunky driving simulators and decades-old training footage — the promise of driving autonomy was just months away, waiting for the day I would pass the DMV’s test on my 16th birthday.
Once I had that license in hand, I could legally drive my Toyota Cressida to Blockbuster by myself — heck, I could drive to Las Vegas if I’d wanted to give my parents a pair of heart attacks.
But times, they have changed: Starting in the 1990s, states began introducing graduated licensing programs with various restrictions for drivers under 18.
All 50 states and Washington, D.C. have since implemented some kind of three-step process, though the exact rules vary from state-to-state.
In general, licensing starts with a permit phase where teens can drive under the supervision of adults; a probationary phase that may include restrictions like not driving at night or having teen passengers in the car; and the final, fully-licensed stage when they reach 18.
Driver’s ed programs for parents
Because each state handles teen and novice drivers differently, parents might not be aware of when, where, and how their kids are allowed to be on the road.
Instead, they often have to rely on their children to tell them about the licensing restrictions, Pam Fischer, a consultant to the Governors Highway Safety Association, told Stateline. Even then, kids might not be honest with their folks or may not know all the rules themselves.
That’s why some states are now looking into driver’s ed lessons for parents.
“Mom and dad are the most influential people in a teen’s life, when it comes to driving,” Fischer told Stateline. “If they are educated to understand the risk, that’s huge because their kids are listening to them.”
For example, in Connecticut, parents or legal guardians have to attend a two-hour training session with their 16- or 17-year-old driver before the teens can take the licensing test.
Massachusetts requires at least one parent to take a class as part of the teen driver education program as well. Once they’ve completed the program, they won’t have to take it again for five years if they can provide proof of attendance when it comes time for their other kids to become drivers.
Others will be on board soon: Rhode Island recently enacted a law [PDF] requiring parents to take such a class before their teens can get their licenses.
In New Jersey, a measure mandating driver’s education for parents passed the state Assembly in July, and is pending in the Senate.
“Parents have to enforce this stuff,” Fischer told Stateline. “It’s critical.”
Bans on cell phone/texting for teen drivers
Distracted driving is a serious problem, with an average of nine people dying every day from crashes caused by people doing something behind the wheel than driving.
While drivers of all ages should not be texting or surfing the internet while they drive, young drivers have been observed manipulating electronic devices at higher rates than older drivers since 2007.
To that end, 38 states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by novice drivers. Here’s a handy chart [PDF] of which states ban what kind of phone use.
Nighttime driving restrictions
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, all states except Vermont restrict nighttime driving during the intermediate stage of the graduated licensing process.
46 states and D.C. restrict the number of passengers during the intermediate stage.
Novice driver decals
GHSA notes that New Jersey is the only state so far with a law requiring those younger than 21 without full-privilege licenses to display a decal on their vehicle identifying them as new drivers.