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How to Tell When Your Kid Is Ready to Drive Alone

Teens and Driving Ability

While not to be relied on exclusively, state requirements do help considerably in getting your teen ready to drive solo. All 50 states have some variation of graduated driver's licensing, or GDL, which eases drivers through stages of increasing independence behind the wheel.

In most states, the eligible age to start the process is 15, though it ranges from 14 to 16 nationwide [source: Governors Highway Safety Association]. GDL details vary by state, but most have three phases [sources: National Institutes of Health, Governors Highway Safety Association].

  • The learner's license, which typically lasts for at least six months, during whichthe driver must have an adult in the car at all times and clock at least 30 to 70 practice hours, depending on the state.
  • The intermediate license, which lasts from six months to two years, during which a teen can drive unsupervised but with restrictions (for instance, limits on night-time driving and the number of passengers allowed in the car).
  • The full driver's license, which carries no restrictions or supervision requirements

After the initial, supervised learning stage and the restricted, intermediate stage, you may feel confident your child knows the rules of the road and can drive well under normal conditions. What he or she lacks, however, is experience. Experience is the key to safely navigating unexpected or complex road conditions [source: Teen Driver Source].

To evaluate higher-level skills, take your teen out driving at night, in bad weather, in heavy traffic, through construction zones, and on highways to practice navigating on-- and – off ramps (especially ones with tight turns), merging, and changing lanes at high speeds.

Basically, if a maneuver makes you a little tense when you're driving, practice it a lot with your child at the wheel.

A few skills deserve special attention. A 2011 analysis of serious accidents involving teen drivers showed that a deficit in three areas accounted for nearly 50 percent of the driver-error crashes: lack ofscanning, or assessing the car's surroundings to see possible problems before they occur; notreducing speed to accommodate dangerous road conditions; and being distracted by something in the car or outside it[source: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia].

While adults certainly get distracted, too, some traits of adolescence make kids more susceptible. Safe driving practices in general are not always well-supported by the teenaged brain.