License to Drive — Handling your kids learning to drive
If you have a child about to celebrate his or her 16th birthday, a driver’s license has likely been a frequent topic in your house. For those of you navigating this for the first time, it can be very overwhelming, a little scary, and sometimes confusing.
In the State of Connecticut, individuals must be 16 to obtain a driving permit. A “permit” is the temporary documentation needed to practice driving with a licensed adult in the car, and requires passing a written test taken at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). A study guide is available online, and there is also an app students can download to their smartphones (they actually do need to study). Students are informed immediately if they passed and will be given a temporary paper permit. The official one will arrive by mail in about a week.
Once the learner’s permit is in hand, the real fun begins. Parents are required to spend a minimum of 40 hours practicing with their newly permitted driver behind the wheel before they will be eligible to take a road test. In addition to practicing with a parent or other licensed adult driver, Connecticut requires teens to complete additional class training, which can be obtained in two ways: by enrolling at a verified commercial driving school, or by downloading a training guide from the DMV and completing training at home. All students are required to complete an eight-hour “Safe Driving Practices” course which includes a two-hour parent class. This class is available at all commercial driving schools, and is also offered at some secondary schools. If this course is not completed, students must wait until they are eighteen to take a road test.
If you choose to enroll your child at a commercial driving school, they all offer essentially the same package: 30 hours of classroom training (including the aforementioned Safe Driving Practices course and a two-hour parent/child safety class), and eight hours of “behind the wheel” lessons with a certified instructor. Price varies considerably, as does class flexibility, location, and convenience of scheduling, so be sure to shop around.
Those completing a formal driving school program are eligible to take their road test 120 days after receiving a permit, whereas the home-schooled students must wait an additional 60 days (180 days total). Most driving schools offer on-site road tests to their students, administered by a DMV representative. The tests are typically not included in the price of the class, and slots book up quickly. Most schools advise scheduling a road test shortly after obtaining a permit. Road tests are also available most weekdays at certain DMV locations, where you will be required to arrive with a fully registered, insured vehicle in which to take the test. If the road test is taken via a commercial school, you will use a school car for this purpose, and will still need to go to the DMV 72 hours after passing in order to obtain your license.
Emma Kantor, a junior at Wilton High School, chose Fresh Green Light (freshgreenlight.com) for her training. With her busy schedule, she liked that classes were offered on different days at multiple locations, including Wilton, Ridgefield, and Westport. However, she notes that planning ahead is key. “I strongly recommend registering and pre-booking your in-car lessons as early as possible because the spots fill up quickly,” she explains. “If you don’t have them complete, you will not be able to take the road test.” Like the classes, FGL also allows students to schedule behind-the-wheel lessons at any of their locations.
Natalie Ellenthal, also a junior at WHS, opted for the eight-hour safety course at FGL instead of the full 30-hour course. By choosing this option, she waited six months to get her license instead of four. “Most people want to jump into the four month because they want their license as soon as possible,” she says. “The six month course requires fewer classes,” she continues, “and driving lessons and road tests book up very fast.”
Lewis School of Driving in New Canaan is another local option for teens, and where WHS junior Andrew Smith completed his driving requirements. Andrew liked the format of the classes, which incorporated videos and breaks to the instruction. “I was able to stay attentive the entire time,” he says. He also liked his behind-the-wheel lessons. “I enjoyed each of my instructors because they were calm and made sure I was comfortable while driving the car,” Andrew explains. “We went through step-by-step, not rushing anything, which I believe made me the best driver possible.”