3 Things You Need to Know before You Give Your Teen Your Car Keys

If you grew up in the days when you got your driver’s license on your sixteenth birthday and immediately drove off to pick up your friends, you may not realize that most states now have some kind of graduated licensing process. Teens can be very persuasive when they want to get their learner’s permit and start driving, so it’s important to research your state’s laws ahead of time.


First, you need to be familiar with your state’s requirements, whether you’re just starting to teach your teen to drive or turning him loose for the first time:

The minimum age for a learner’s permit varies by state, ranging from 14 to 16.

Many states also have laws regulating how long a teenager must have had his permit before he can obtain a regular license. This time period (for the states that require it) ranges from a few days to a year.

Many states also require that drivers with an instruction permit have a specified number of supervised driving hours and may break it down into day and nighttime hours. In addition, New Jersey requires that all drivers who are under 21 and don’t yet have a full license display a decal on any vehicle they drive.


Almost all states have some restrictions on teen drivers during the learner’s permit phase. Some of the most common include:

» Passengers: In many states, teens with learner’s permits may only drive with an instructor and/or a parent. Some states also limit the passengers of newly licensed drivers, letting them drive only immediate family members or up to one other teenager, for instance.

» Nighttime driving: Vermont is the only state that doesn’t have laws regulating nighttime driving for teens. Most specific hours during which teens can’t drive, while others simply prohibit teen driving between sunset and sunrise. Most make exceptions for work, school, or emergencies (this includes volunteer fire fighters responding to a call).

» Cell phones: Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia ban all cell phone use (including hands-free) for teen drivers.

» Delay of full licensing: Few states grant young teens full driver’s licenses anymore. Most have a graduated process, removing restrictions as the driver matures and gets more experience. The age for full licensing ranges from 16 to 18.


Most parents have a bit of sticker shock the first time they buy insurance for a teen driver. That’s because that age group has the highest accident rates, due to inexperience and immaturity. All states but New Hampshire require at least liability coverage, so if you’re going to let your teen drive, he needs insurance. Here are some things to consider:

» Should I add him to my policy or get him his own? It depends. It’s usually better to add your teen to your policy so you can take advantage of any discounts you’ve earned. However, if you buy your teenager an older, low-value car, you might want to consider getting him his own liability-only policy. Talk to your agent to figure out your best options.

» Does my teenager need insurance coverage while learning to drive? Most states don’t require teens with learners’ permits to be insured; they’re covered under their parents’ policies.

» What can I do to save some money on those sky-high rates? Ask your agent about any discounts that may apply to your teenager. Many agents offer discounts for good grades, for instance. Others have a tiered system, with rates being lowered after each term in which no claim is made.

While many parents are reluctant to turn their new drivers loose anyway, many states now prohibit that approach. So before you hand over the keys for that first lesson, make sure you understand all of the requirements and restrictions that apply in your state.

Parent-Teen Training Guides

This is an example of a Parent-Teen Training Guide published by California Department of Motor Vehicles. Most states have similar guides. They are a good start for both parents and teens.

In addition, it is a good idea for a parent to sit beside the teen when he or she practice permit tests. Verbally discussing the answers will give more insight and help the teen to better master the exam.