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Teen Drivers: A Beginner's Guide

Getting your driver's license is an exciting new adventure, especially for a teenager. With your new license comes new-found freedom. But your driving privileges also come with great responsibility. To become safe licensed drivers, teens are required to follow a path of education and practice to help them prepare.

 The Graduated Driver's License Process
Across the country, new drivers are faced with what's called the Graduated Driver's License (GDL) process. This was developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and requires new drivers to complete a 3-step process:

  • Learner's Permit
  • Intermediate Permit
  • Driver's License

 Step One: Driver's Education
For most new drivers, your first step towards earning your learner's permit is to learn the rules of the road. This will come in the form of a formal driver's education course. New drivers have many options including taking the course at their high school, signing up for a private classroom course, or fulfilling their teen driver's education online.

Before you are eligible to start working toward your driver's license, you need to meet your state's minimum age requirement. Most states require you be at least 15 years of age. Check your state's requirements and if you're old enough, you can begin your path to earning your driver's license. Here's a quick outline of what you can expect.

  • Take a Driver's Education Course
  • Enroll In Behind-the-Wheel Training
  • Take Your Permit Test
  • Pass Your Behind-the-Wheel Training
  • Practice Driving With an Adult Licensed Driver
  • Apply for Your Driver's License

Driver's education is a valuable first step in teaching you everything from automobile basics, to driving laws in your state, to life-saving defensive driving maneuvers. In most states you can fulfill your driver's education requirement from home with an online course.

 Some of the things you can expect to learn in your driver's education include:

  • Road Signs, Traffic Signals, and Right of Way
  • How to Safely Change Lanes, Turn, and Enter or Exit Roadways
  • Basic Vehicle Safety and Maintenance
  • Proper Strategies for Emergency Situations

 Step Two: Learning to Drive
Once you've learned the rules of the road on paper, you'll need to take your knowledge behind the wheel. While your first time in the driver's seat can be nerve wracking and possibly frustrating, don't give up! Just like any new activity, the more you practice, the better you'll get. Start slow and work your way up to more challenging scenarios.

Your driving permit will allow you the opportunity to learn to drive with adult licensed drivers. Your state will have specific requirements for how you can complete this portion of your license process. For some new drivers, you may be sharing your instruction time with other teen drivers. This offers an excellent opportunity to learn from observation. Listen closely to what the instructor tells the other student drivers and watch their reactions. This will better prepare you for when it's your turn to take the road!

 Safety Tips for New Drivers
You'll learn laws and basic driving maneuvers through your driver's education and driver's training courses. However, when it comes to staying safe on the road, it's important to use some basic common sense. Here are a few key things to keep in mind whenever you get behind the wheel.

  • Always wear your seatbelt, even if you're a passenger.There's no safer way to travel, and getting in the habit of wearing your seat belt every time you're in the car will make it second nature.
  • Always take a minute to adjust your seat and mirror before you start the car.This is one step that will ensure you are comfortable and safe before you are on the road.
  • Remember the rules. Speed limits, yield and stop signs, traffic signals, emergency sirens - there is a lot to keep in mind. However, you should always be on the lookout for any indicators that will help you stay safe on the road.
  • Put a safe distance between yourself and other drivers. One of the biggest downfalls for new drivers is failing to react properly, so if you're too close to the driver in front of you, you might not brake fast enough. If all else fails, slow down and take your time. Other drivers can go around you!
  • Be prepared. Make sure you have enough gas to get to and from your destination. Carry a cell phone to contact your parents or emergency services if needed, but never use your phone while driving - pay attention to the road instead. And make sure you have proper directions so you can arrive at your destination safely.
  • Adjust for the conditions. Some states have a "new driver curfew" to prevent new drivers from hitting the road after dark. But you should always know proper safe driving strategies for driving in rain, during heavy traffic, and after the sun goes down.
  • Make sure your car is in tip-top shape. If you share the car with your parents, talk to them about maintenance like keeping the oil changed, the tires in good shape, changing the wiper blades, and other simple steps you should take to make sure your car is running properly.
  • Drive distraction-free.When you're behind the wheel, you need to stay focused. That means no eating, putting on makeup, texting, or fiddling with the radio. Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road and you'll ensure the safety of yourself and others.
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