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Starting to Drive as a Teen 101 – Learn How To Drive a Car

Starting to Drive as a Teen 101 – Learn How To Drive a Car

Zutobi

by Zutobi · Updated Nov 30, 2020

Learning how to drive is an exciting and important moment in the life of most teens. A driver’s license comes with freedom and independence, but also responsibilities. Each year, there are more than 36,000 fatalities as a result of traffic crashes and more than 2,7 million people are injured. It’s vital that you learn how to drive a car correctly and that you learn the rules of the road to not become a statistic.

Getting Started With Driving

So, how do you actually get started with driving? Well, there is a lot you need to do and learn. But don’t worry, we’ll go through it all in detail for you.

Get a Learner’s Permit

Before you can even begin to sit behind the wheel, you need to study for the permit test. The reason being is that you need a learner’s permit to be qualified to practice driving – without the permit, you won’t be allowed behind the wheel.

As part of studying for your permit, you will need to learn the rules of the road and the intricacies of different traffic situations. If you haven’t yet studied for your permit test, you can take our DMV prep course here.

Man holding permit test certificate
Prep for the DMV knowledge test on Zutobi.com

Learning How to Drive a Car

Once you have your learner’s permit, you will finally be allowed to practice driving for real. The first thing you should do is to learn how to control the car. Take it slow. Get used to the controls, the pedals, how to check and adjust your mirrors, and the size and feel of the car. 

Cars driving on highway and HOV-lane
Don’t start by practicing on the highway! An empty parking lot is more fitting as you learn to control the car

You can begin with the engine off to get a feel for the clutch (if a manual car) and how the stick shift works. Once you are comfortable with the engine off, you want to begin practicing with the engine on. We advise that you start driving in an empty parking lot so you get a feel of how the car works at a slow speed without other traffic.

As you get more and more comfortable, you can move to roads with more and more traffic. Just remember; moving to a busy street before you are ready and comfortable is both stressful for you and dangerous for others. 

Behind-the-Wheel Practice

With a learner’s permit, you may only drive accompanied by a supervising driver. The supervising driver must be a fully licensed driver, often your parent, guardian, or driving instructor. The supervising driver should teach you about important aspects of driving, such as changing lanes, how to check oil, how to park, and defensive driving.

Person reversing and knocks down a dumpster

There is a lot you need to think about and when learning how to drive, such as:

  • What is a suitable speed for the conditions? You may be ticketed for driving “too fast for the conditions” even when you are driving slower than the speed limit. When you are new to driving, you should be especially careful as you lack experience.
  • Understand the basics of owning a car. For example; you may need to change a tire, pump gas, add fluids to the car. Modern cars use dashboard lights to indicate when something needs attention, so learn the dashboard lights!
  • When is changing lanes safe? Ask your supervising driver and practice it!
  • How do you reverse and when is it suitable? Avoid reversing on any roads where you cannot see clearly in both directions.
  • How do you park? What’s a suitable size on a parking spot and how do you perform the maneuver?
  • How do you drive defensively, and what does it mean?
  • Properly adjusting the car seat, mirrors and steering wheel.

While these are just a few examples of the stuff you need to learn, it serves to show that there is a lot. We strongly encourage you to take lessons with a driving instructor in addition to the practice sessions with your parents or guardians. You can also read the DMV manual or take a DMV prep course to prepare yourself.

Why Should You Practice Driving With a Driving Instructor?

The driving instructor will be able to help you learn to drive properly and adjust what you do incorrectly. It’s especially important to take a few lessons with a driving instructor every few weeks or so if your supervising driver has had their driver’s license for a long time.

Why? Driving instructors are very skilled at teaching new drivers how to drive a car correctly, and know the common mistakes that beginners often make and how to correct them. Parents or guardians, on the other hand, may have forgotten the basics a long time ago.

Practice, Practice, Practice

There is a lot you need to know and understand when learning to drive. The more you practice, the better and safer driver you will become. Learning to drive a car takes time – you don’t just become a good driver overnight, you learn it through practicing behind the wheel for many hours. 

Log as many hours as you can behind the wheel before taking the road test. In some states, you’ll need to log a mandatory 50-100 hours before you are allowed to take the test. Consider that to be the minimum amount of hours you should practice behind the wheel, not the recommended amount. 

Getting Your License

After you have completed the permit test and done your fair share of behind-the-wheel practice, you are ready for the road test.

Behind-the-Wheel Road Test

Girl taking her driving test with instructor in the passenger seat

The last hurdle to overcome before getting a driver’s license is the behind-the-wheel driving test. The driving test is meant to test if you are ready for solo driving by having you drive with a driving examiner in the passenger seat. To prevent unsafe or bad drivers from getting a driver’s license, even small errors on the drivers test can lead to a failing grade.

It’s understandable to want to complete the behind-the-wheel test as early as possible, but taking the driving test before you are ready will inevitably lead to a failing grade. In fact, the most common mistake according to instructors is taking the test too early. 

If you want to know more about the road test, you can read 13 Driving Test Tips to Easily Pass your road test in 2021.

What to Bring to the DMV?

You don’t want to show up to the driving test without the proper documentation as you won’t be allowed to take the test. So, what do you actually need to bring to the test? Well… that depends on the state you live in, the type of license you intend to get, and several other factors.

Male standing in front of a sign telling what documents to bring to DMV

For example; you need to bring proof of identity, proof of residency, proof of financial responsibility, proof of completion of driver’s education (depending on state and age!) and much more.

How Old Do You Have to Be?

These are the age restrictions for learners/driver’s permit, provisional license and full driver’s license for all U.S. states.

StateDriver’s Permit AgeProvisional License AgeFull License Age
Alabama151617
Alaska141616 ½ 
Arizona15 ½ 1616 ½ 
Arkansas141618
California15 ½ 1617
Colorado151617
Connecticut1616 ⅓ 18
Delaware1616 ½ 17
District of Columbia1616 ½ 18
Florida151618
Georgia151618
Hawaii15 ½ 1617
Idaho14 ½ 1617
Illinois151618
Indiana1516 ½ 18
Iowa141617
Kansas141616 ½ 
Kentucky1616 ½ 17
Louisiana151617
Maine151616 ¾ 
Maryland15 ¾ 16 ½ 18
Massachusetts1616 ½ 18
Michigan14 ¾ 1617
Minnesota151617
Mississippi151616 ½ 
Missouri151618
Montana14 ½ 1516
Nebraska151617
Nevada15 ½ 1618
New Hampshire15 ½ 1618
New Jersey161718
New Mexico1515 ½ 16 ½ 
New York1616 ½ 18 (can be lowered to 17 by attending classes)
North Carolina151616 ½ 
North Dakota141516
Ohio15 ½ 1618
Oklahoma15 ½ 1616 ½ 
Oregon151617
Pennsylvania1616 ½ 18 (can be lowered to 17 by attending classes)
Rhode Island1616 ½ 17 ½ 
South Carolina1515 ½ 16 ½ 
South Dakota1414 ½ 16
Tennessee151617
Texas151618
Utah151617
Vermont151616 ½ 
Virginia15 ½ 16 ¼ 18
Washington151617
West Virginia151617
Wisconsin15 ½ 1616 ¾ 
Wyoming151616 ½ 

Manual or Automatic Transmission?

Perhaps the first big decision you have to make is to decide whether you intend to learn how to drive a manual or an automatic. The decision will decide the type of cars you may drive in the future. For example; if you pass the driving test for an automatic, you won’t be allowed to drive a manual vehicle. However, if you pass the manual driving test, you will be allowed to drive both.

For most people, this simply comes down to the type of car you have at home. If you cant’ practice with your parents or guardians, getting a driver’s license will be much more expensive as you will have to rely on sessions with a driving instructor. We bring it up, however, because you should be aware of what the choice will entail.

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