Is Driving School Worth the Cost? Here Is How Parents Can Decide

The cost of a driving school can vary a lot—from state to state, and by the purpose of the training. If you answer “yes” to any of these three questions, it is worthwhile to sign up.

daughter starting car while looking at mother sitting in the passenger seat
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Driving lessons are one of the most cost-effective ways to learn to drive. Some states—like California, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Texas—require formal driving lessons (think: driver's ed) for a learner's permit, an adult driver's license, or an accelerated route to both. But even states that don't require these courses often encourage aspiring drivers to take a class before signing up for the road test.

Whether you're an adult first-time driver or a parent of a teen in need of a permit, you might be wondering whether you really should invest in a formal driving class. Self-teaching or latching on to a family member or friend who agrees to teach for free might sound like a cost savings. But, if you answer 'yes' to any of the questions below, it is still worthwhile to pay for formal classes.

1. Does your city or state require driving school classes (or offer a fast track for those who take optional classes)?

Driving laws vary from state to state and keeping track can be complicated. Yet one thing is for certain. To drive legally in the United States, you must pass a written and practical driver's test administered by your state's Department of Motor Vehicles. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shares the list of graduated licensing laws by state, so you can verify the terms and conditions.

If your state requires a certain number of hours behind the wheel with a licensed driving school, that rule is likely broken down by the age of the aspiring driver and the license type. While most people expect that teens would have such a requirement, you might be surprised to learn that in states like New Jersey, adult drivers with a valid license from another country may have to go through the first-time driver's process to get a license too, if they plan to reside in the state long-term. This rings true for new citizens, as well as foreign exchange students in high school or college.

Many states require that first-time drivers take courses in a dual-controlled car, which most people can only find at a driving school. New driver classes typically cost less than $100/hour, but these courses are totally worth it because they are incentivized or mandatory. For high schoolers, classes may be free or next-to-nothing if taken at their school.

2. Are the people in your immediate circle car-less?

A driving school is a no-brainer if your state requires classes in a dual-controlled vehicle. Those kinds of cars are pretty hard to find outside of a driving school. But, if the rules don't specify the need for that particular car, it may be tempting to have a family member or friend lead classes in their personal car over a series of weeks. That works if your family has a car to offer. These days, however, many people have chosen to go car-less for environmental or financial reasons. This leaves learners without recourse, except formal instruction with a driver and a school car.

Parents may decide that even if they do have a car, they'd prefer not to let their teen practice on the vehicle the family relies upon. An accident could mean big trouble—no insurance coverage for an unlicensed driver, and medical and repair bills that surpass the cost of formal classes. In these cases, paying for the classes addresses the need for the car, itself, and eliminates the possible risks and dangers of DIY instruction.

3. Do you worry about road safety for your teen?

If fear of driving accidents keeps you up at night, then you're not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of death for U.S. teens." The first few months after getting a license are the most dangerous, but the time of the day and the age of the driver can make getting behind the wheel even riskier. Although a driving school can't guarantee outcomes, it does set up kids for success. It is the best path to understanding the importance of using seat belts and driving within the speed limit, not just for the driver but also for their passengers.

Referencing scientific studies, the same CDC report shared that "The presence of teen or young adult passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers." This is particularly scary if your teen will be responsible for driving younger siblings to school or picking up friends to carpool to extra-curricular activities. Driving schools can help mitigate risky behaviors and be a resource to explain how to properly use car seats, booster seats, and airbags.

Although many parents might have already heard about the disproportionate dangers of risky driving for male teens, you might be surprised by other stats. Another survey-based CDC study reported that "In 2019, a total of 43.1 percent of U.S. high school students had not always worn a seat belt and 16.7 percent had ridden with a drinking driver during the 30 days before the survey. Among the 59.9 percent of respondents who had driven a car or other vehicle during the 30 days before the survey, 5.4 percent had driven after drinking alcohol, and 39.0 percent had texted while driving." Thankfully, many of these incidents don't result in fatalities, but estimates show that there still are approximately 300,000 non-fatal car accidents each year among U.S. adolescents.

These crashes can be scary and costly for parents, who are footing car and medical insurance bills. Many insurance companies will offer a discount for licensed drivers who have taken defensive driving courses. These discounts can offset the cost of high premiums due to age and demographic factors that companies see as risk indicators.

If you're concerned, or if you just know that your kid takes a lot of chances, it is worth the peace of mind to put your teen in classes to ease them into independence in the safest way possible.

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