How to Prepare for Your Child’s First Time Driving

child's first time driving

He screams. You scream. You all scream for high beams! Or a full stop at a stop sign. Or more distance from the car ahead of you. Is there any parent/child interaction more stressful than driver training? Parents (and parenting experts) know that putting a teen into what’s potentially a two-ton weapon equipped with an accelerator sends stress levels through the sunroof. Many California parents don’t realize that the driver’s training hassle entails more than sitting in the passenger seat while the teen handles the wheel. California law requires several steps and a decent amount of studying and paperwork before freeing parents from chauffeur duties. This countdown to your child’s first time driving takes the stress out of the process.

When Your Student Driver Turns 15:

Find and Take Online Driver’s Ed Course Start exploring (or have your child start exploring) the various online drivers’ education courses appropriate for your state. They are a series of online lessons that take the student through the state’s driver’s handbook. Signing up is easy, but don’t be duped: the $9.99 courses work just as well as those charging $60. Driver Education must consist of at least 30 hours of instruction and be California DMV approved.

In California, once your student has completed all the lessons and passed the tests involved, the course will send you a packet containing the application for the California driver’s license, a goldenrod-colored form saying the student has taken and passed the course, and some instructions on how to obtain a permit in California.

Hint: Getting this done in the summer or over another break not only helps the student structure vacation time, it frees us as much time as possible during the school year for classes and activities.

Also, start setting good driving examples. Think about how much sensory stimulation will be coming in to your new driver as he or she begins. Don’t run red lights, speed, or make illegal moves. He or she is watching you closely at this time!

When Your Student Driver Turns 15.25:

1. Call the California Department of Motor Vehicles to Set Up the Permit Test

As of December 2014, all California driver permit tests must be scheduled ahead of time via the phone or Internet. No walk-ins allowed!

On the other hand, you can’t call the DMV TOO early (as in once your child just turns 15) because they don’t schedule that far in advance. Your best bet is to call the number for your closest DMV and select the option of having them call you back. It may take them three or more hours to do so, but it’s better than you listening to their Muzak all that time.

Write down the permit test appointment several places. Also, at this time, make sure you have the documents that will pass as proof of identification. There is nothing more tantrum-provoking than showing up at the DMV without an original birth certificate or passport. And of course, dad, it will be ALL YOUR FAULT!

2. Gather All Documents Needed:

Drivers License Application 44 or DL 44 which is NOT AVAILABLE AS AN ONLINE DOWNLOAD. Hopefully, your drivers’ education service sent you this form. If not, a parent will need to pick this up at the DMV. Each blank document has an original bar code on it. It cannot be printed out at home or photo copied. You can also call the DMV’s Automated Telephone Service at 1-800-777-0133 to have a form mailed to you. (Another reason to jump on these tasks now). It will need original signatures from a parent and from the driver.

Social Security Number

The card itself isn’t necessary if you have the number memorized.


The passport is enough to prove your identity.


Original or Certified Copy of Birth Certificate

If the original birth certificate is lost, you can acquire a new one through the County of San Diego Recorder’s office. Call 619-692-5733 if you have questions.

Documents Proving Change of Name

If your name is now different from that on your birth certificate, you’ll need your marriage certificate or a name change document that contains both your name before and after the change.

Other Proof of Citizenship

Original military identification, permanent resident or temporary resident cards also suffice.

When Your Student Driver Turns 15.5:

Take the Permit Test at the California Department of Motor Vehicles In California, teens can take the permit test six months before their sixteenth birthday. Bring your child to the DMV fifteen minutes before your appointment time. With the test passed, you can now sign up for driver training, which is different from driver education.

Find and Take Driver Training

Get recommendations for good, in-person driver training schools in your area. Your student will take three lessons with a driving instructor in the driving school’s car. Most likely, this car will be equipped with over-ride steering and brakes. For a fee of between $250 and $400, your student will take three lessons, one of which must be taken before the student driver can start driver training with you. With this first lesson over, the driving instructor will sign your child’s permit. Now he or she is ready for mom and dad lessons!

Provide Teen Accident Preparedness Training

Put copies of the car registration and insurance in the car AND in the teen’s wallet or purse. Explain how to refrain from claiming responsibility right away and how to exchange information in a reasonable, calm manner. Talk about the accidents and fender benders you’ve had and how you handled them.

Prepare for Your Child’s First Time Driving

At last! Your teen is behind the wheel and before you know it, driving to his or her own activities and social events. Hurray!

The best place to start driving lessons is in an empty parking lot. Business park parking lots tend to be deserted on the weekends. It’s in the empty parking lot where you build a solid foundation of driving skills. There, he or she will get used to the pedals, gears, parking brake, gear shift, mirrors, seat height, and more. Familiarization with the car itself and moving it along a road and a curb, turning and stopping is enough to tackle before moving to a street full of bad drivers, distracted pedestrians and street lights!

Help them Get to Know Their Limits:

Teen driving stress comes from their inexperience. Help them understand how space and time interact as they drive by using these time rules. Again, an empty parking lot is the best place to practice the following rules:

The 2-Second Rule: Student drivers should always stay at least two seconds behind the driver in front. To gauge whether or not your car has safe trailing distance, you both can watch the car in front pass a stop sign and then count “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand.”

The 4-Second Rule: Student drivers should be able to stop within four seconds, even at speeds over 60 miles per hour. Experiment with your student and count “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three -one-thousand, four-one-thousand” as you come to a stop. As you pass four-one-thousand, are you at the point you expected to be?

The 12-Second Rule: Drivers should be aware of their surroundings to the extent that they’re driving to accommodate for anything they may reach within 12 seconds. Drivers should scan the scene and be ready to adjust speed and position for pedestrians, traffic lights, other cars, and more that they may reach within twelve seconds.

Review Your Attitude:

Determine to share with them what they should be doing and what they are doing correctly, rather than just what they’re doing incorrectly. Refrain from constantly correcting. When they’re moving along nicely, signaling at the right time, and estimating appropriate stopping distance, put those successes into words. They need to internalize proper movements and choices as much as ineffective ones.

The tried and true “Smith System” helps student drivers know what they SHOULD be doing with their eyes. It’s tenants include:

  • Watch the horizon, but keep your eyes moving
  • Avoid staring at one point for too long
  • Try be aware of whether other cars can see you
  • Consider what you would do should the car in front turn suddenly, stop suddenly, or make any number of other unexpected movements
  • Watch other cars and draw conclusions on what they may do

Suggesting all of these at once can overwhelm the new driver. Try to work them in over the six months you have while training your child.

Remind the student that driving can be stressful for a year or more. No one expects the student to be an excellent driver right away. They have a “provisional” license even for the year after they get the license because they’re still in training.

Set small, realistic goals that can be achieved reasonably quickly.

Use Your Words:

Plan some words you’ll use to get the desired results.Will you use “stop” or “brake?”

Consider narrating what’s going on ahead as you drive along. Saying “light turning yellow,” “car slowing ahead,” and more can help get the student driver to develop his or her own way of navigating the many things going on at once. Try to say these things in a calm voice, however.

Utilize silence. If the trip is going along well, don’t always jump in with instructions. Give them the control.

Don’t yell: although this is easier said than done.

Save More Challenging Driving Practice for Later

As you and your student driver moved from the empty business park parking lot to the neighborhood streets, driving tasks became more complex. Experts caution parents to keep their drivers in training in the neighborhoods for three to five months before bringing on the tough stuff. You may even want to wait until after your child has passed the behind-the-wheel driving test at the DMV and has earned a provisional license before venturing into these tests. Making a left on a green light only when no oncoming traffic exists

  • Margining into traffic from the on-ramp on the highway
  • Changing lanes on the highway
  • Merging onto the carpool lane on the highway
  • Driving in harsh weather conditions (slowly build up with light rain and snow first)
  • Driving at dusk when the sun interferes with line of sight
  • Riding with passengers (illegal until driver moves beyond provisional license at 17. AFTER ONE FULL YEAR DRIVING ALONE. NO FRIENDS IN THE CAR).

Review When Mistakes Happen

When you and your teen experience a near-collision, traffic-light-run-through or any other heart-stopping event (which you will), take time to debrief on the event. Particularly if you or your teen was yelling and your pulses were racing, it’s best to leave traffic and calm down. Go over what exactly happened; what you saw and what your teen saw. Talk about why he or she made those choices. Talk about “next time” and what to do instead.

The Teen Driving Lesson: Stressful? Perhaps. Bonding? Absolutely!

Most teens are SO excited to learn to drive. With their emotions so heightened, they’re sure to remember driving lessons with mom or dad for decades. Make these memories good ones when you understand how you can BEST teach your little road warrior to rein it in when necessary and overcome his or her fears, too. If you read a bit about the ages and stages our “seasoned” attorneys are in now, you’ll know we’ve experienced these trials and joys ourselves! In fact, read our post, “14 Tips for Staying Involved in Your Child’s Life” lists volunteering for driver training as an ideal opportunity to spend one-on-one, uninterrupted time with your teen.

If you or a friend is undergoing a divorce, marital dissolution or custody battle, we can help. We’re happy to provide a complimentary consultation to clear up your most pressing questions and concerns.

Image courtesy of pakorn

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