Driving: Countdown to Car Keys

One of the most exciting perks of becoming a teenager is gaining the freedom to drive, but with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility.

One of the most exciting perks of becoming a teenager is gaining the freedom to drive, but with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility. And parents, you share in that responsibility: It’s your job to teach your teen about cars and driving — before they turn 16 — and get them ready to hit the road safely. Use our age-appropriate checklist to make sure you and your teen are on the right track. 

Age 14 

  • TURN YOUR TEEN’S DRIVER-VISION ON. Teens gain “driver-vision” by paying attention from the passenger seat. Take this opportunity to start teaching them about how cars operate (blinkers, steering, braking, etc.), about road signs, basic road etiquette, judging the proper distance to drive behind others and detecting and avoiding possible accidents. 
  • Do this Too: Talk to your teen about the importance of following rules of the road and driving laws and the consequences of breaking them. 
  • Model good driving. Encourage your teen to watch what you do. Talk through your decisions with your teen. What are you seeing that your teen might not see? Why are you doing what you are doing?   
  • Try This: Get your teen a copy of the driver’s manual from a local DMV and encourage them to start studying now for their learner’s permit. You can help make the learning process easier by making up road games like “What’s That Road Sign?”. 

Age 15 

  • GIVE THEM HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE. Once teens are familiar with the rules, they should be ready to pass the written test for a learner’s permit. And now is a good time to allow them to get comfortable behind the wheel. Teens should practice as often as possible (at least 50 hours) and gradually work their way up to advanced driving situations like busier traffic, driving at night, rainy weather and dirt roads in addition to parking practice (all under parental supervision of course).   
  • Do this too: Review the controls of the automobile and its functions—headlights, turn signals, seatbelts, mirrors, pedals, putting the car in gear, etc. 
  • Chose a low-traffic road or area for your teen’s first on-road experience. You want them to learn the basics of driving. Give your teen feedback on their performance. 
  • Try This: Be careful what you preach, because your actions could be teaching your teen something else. Teens tend to measure their own invincibility by their parents’ actions. It is imperative that you follow rules like speed limits, complete stops at stop signs, proper signaling and buckling up. 

Age 16 

  • GIVE THEM TIME. Your teen can fail the road test by making only one or two mistakes. All the practice you did together should pay off, but if not, be patient and encourage them to stay patient too. When they do pass, congrats to you both! 
  • Do this too: Set ground rules and enforce them—no cell phones, no more than one passenger at a time, no driving after 9 p.m., no driving on the highway, all seatbelts must be buckled, etc. Reiterate the importance of safety and remaining focused while driving. 
  • Continue to be the right model for your teen. Just because they are driving does not mean they will no longer see you drive. 
  • Try This: After teens get their license, they have permission to drive without parental supervision. However, state law in Alabama does not allow 16-year-old drivers to have more than one passenger — unless the passengers are parents, guardians or licensed drivers over the age of 21. When you’re not in the car, you can check your teen’s driving progress (or lack thereof) in several ways: using tracking devices or slapping a simple “How’s My Driving?” bumper stickers on their car. 

Age 18 

  • SET THEM FREE. Once teens establish and maintain a clean driving record, they’ve earned the trust and freedom to drive wherever they want. But tickets for speeding, running stop signs, etc. will put points to their driving record — in a bad way. Just 12 to 24 points within two years can result in a suspended license, so remind them to continue those good habits you taught them. 
  • Do this too: Before your teen leaves for college, talk with them about what to do in case of an accident (as a witness or person involved). 


According to the Alabama Child Death Review System (ACDRS), vehicular fatalities are, by far, the single largest category of non-medical deaths in teenagers, accounting for almost half of all deaths they review. Many of these deaths involve teenage drivers. Alabama is currently the second worst state in the nation for teen driver fatalities. 


A few do’s and don’ts for your driving practice sessions: 

Do Not: 

  • Panic or shout
  • Forget to teach courtesy
  • Allow other passengers to be a distraction
  • Give conflicting instructions (i.e. “Go ahead and stop.”)
  • Grab the steering wheel (unless it is an emergency)


  • Be patient
  • Review defensive driving
  • Advise with a calm voice
  • Turn the radio off while teaching
  • Obey all traffic laws at all times


Brad Armagost, president of Trustmark National Bank, offered this advice on paying for your teen’s first car. 

  • Avoid loans if you can —A car is a depreciating asset. 
  • If you do need to borrow money, consider a home equity line instead of a car loan. 
  • Find a car that has an affordable monthly payment for you within the 36-48 month term. The longer the term, the more likely you are to get “upside down” and owe more than the car is worth.

As an editor, copywriter, and social media manager at exploreMedia, I work to develop content that is relevant and interesting to our readers and coordinate with contributing writers.

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