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This teen wants to drive. What's the first step?


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Question:  I think I’m old enough to start driving this summer.  Where do I start?  How do I find out what I need to do? What do my parents need to do about insurance?

Answer:  As a teenager that is learning to drive, you’ll be required to go through your state’s graduated driver’s licensing (GDL) program in order to obtain a driver’s license. 

The age at which you can start the process varies from state to state.  Some states, such as Kansas and North Dakota, allow teens as young 14 to start the licensing process -- but in most states the minimum age is either 15 or 16. 

Find your state here to view our state specific driver resources section that contains links to the state’s licensing agency and driver’s manual, so you can read up on licensing requirements and the rules of the road.

The GDL process differs a bit in each state but generally you’ll need to study up and take a knowledge test so that you can obtain a learner’s permit.  (See if you have what it takes to pass the test by trying out our Driver’s License Quiz that takes questions from 20 different states’ practice tests.)

A learner’s license, or similar license type, is the first step of the GDL process because it allows you to operate a vehicle with a licensed driver in the passenger seat next to you.

Don’t try driving alone before or when you get a permit, or else you could get cited for driving without a license.  This could result in the state delaying your ability to obtain a full driver’s license and insurance not covering you if you’re in an accident. (See “Unlicensed teen crashes car; is the family covered?”)

A parent will need to sign for you to get your permit and should be involved in helping you become a safe, responsible driver.  Part of this is giving you guidance as your supervising driver, but another part is making certain that you understand how car insurance works and that you’re properly covered by the family’s car insurance policy. 

Some car insurance companies require that young drivers with a learner's permit be added to the auto policy as a driver as soon as the permit is obtained.  Other auto insurance providers don’t require novice drivers to be added to the policy until they’ve graduated up to an intermediate license.  This type of license allows a novice driver to drive on their own, but with certain restrictions. 

Your parents need to speak with their car insurance company to see when it says you should be added to the policy. 

When it’s time to add you as a driver, your parents will see their premiums rise pretty drastically.  This is because teen drivers as a whole are found to be high risk for auto insurers, so higher premiums are charged.  (See “What a teen does to your car insurance rates” and have your parents look over our parent’s guide to insuring a teen driver.)

There are ways in which you can try and help your parents save money on car insurance. One is to get good grades and be eligible for a good student discount.  

Also, look to see if taking a driver’s education class will get you a discount.  Not all insurers offer this, especially if your state already requires to you to take a driving course as part of the licensing process.  

Some insurers have their own program you must complete in order to obtain a discount.  For instance, Farmers Insurance has the Y.E.S. (You’re Essential to Safety®) Program that requires teens to watch a video and complete a questionnaire to qualify for a discount.

And, it’s important for you to avoid accidents and keep a clean driving record

If your rates are high now, after an accident or ticket, they would likely go up 20 percent or more and really put a financial crunch on your parents (or you if they make you pay for your portion of the auto insurance bill).

Finally, your parents should comparison shop for the best priced auto policy.  They may be able to save hundreds, or even thousands, by shopping around for the auto insurance carrier that will give them the best rates and discounts – even with a teen on the policy.

More articles from Penny Gusner


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