• teen driving bumper sticker

    If you are a parent of a teen approaching driving age, chances are that you definitely have many questions about teen driving, learning permits, exams, restricted vs full privilege licenses, and insurance.

    Graduated Driver’s License Program

    Washington State teen drivers must follow a Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) three-stage program to safely gain driving experience while transitioning from the learner’s permit to full driver’s license stages.  Those stages include:

    1. Learner Stage, with supervised driving and a driving test
    2. Intermediate Stage, with limited periods of unsupervised driving in high risk driving environments
    3. Full Driving Privileges

    Learner Stage

    At the Learner Stage, the driver must be at least 15 and a half years old, or 15 if enrolled in a driver’s education course.  Qualifying teens then may apply for a Learner’s Permit, which requires proof of residency, proof of identification, and parental authorization.  If the applicant is enrolled in a driver’s education course, they can waive the permit exam.  Otherwise, the applicant must pass a vision exam and a test that covers local traffic rules to obtain the Learner’s Permit.  

    The Learner’s Permit is valid for 12 months and allows the teen driver to operate a vehicle under the supervision of a driver’s education instructor or adult who has been licensed for at least five years.  During this phase, the novice driver must log at least 50 hours of supervised drive time, at least 10 of which must occur during night hours.  The young driver must be in the Learner Stage for at least 6 months before qualifying to enter the Intermediate Stage.  

    Intermediate Stage

    To enter the Intermediate Stage, the driver must be at least 16 years of age, and have passed all requirements of the Learner Stage.  If the driver successfully completes a driver’s education course and all logged hours, she or he may apply for a driver’s Intermediate License with the Department of Licensing, which includes a driving exam.  Upon passing, the driver will be in the Intermediate Stage, which includes several restrictions:

    • No unsupervised driving between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. (supervising drivers must be a parent, guardian, or licensed driver at least 25 years of age) for the first 12 months;
    • No use of cell phones or other electronic devices while driving;
    • No non-family member passengers under the age of 20 for the first 6 months of licensure;
    • After 6 months, no more than 3 non-family member passengers under the age of 20 for the next 6 months;
    • No at-fault collisions or tickets during the six months preceding application;
    • No drug or DUI convictions while a permitted driver;
    • After holding the Intermediate License for 12 months without tickets or at-fault collisions, the curfew and passenger restrictions are lifted;
    • Notice of any traffic citations or violations of the above restrictions will go to the teen’s parents.  Second offenses will result in license suspension for 6 months.  Third offenses will result in license suspension until the teen is 18 years of age.

    Full Privilege Stage

    Full privileges are not granted until the driver has reached the age of 18 and is a legal adult.

    Insuring Your Teen Driver

    Washington law requires that any licensed driver maintain a mandatory bodily injury liability minimum of $25,000.00 bodily injury coverage per person, and $50,000.00 bodily injury coverage per accident, as well as $10,000.00 in property damage and $10,000.00 in personal injury protection.  Failure to have valid insurance is a violation of the law and carries a monetary fine, and may result in suspension of the driver’s license until the driver provides proof of insurance.  

    Parents of teens preparing to obtain their driver’s license should contact their auto insurance to add the teen driver to their policy before your teen takes the driver’s exam with the Department of Licensing.  Most carriers offer a discount if the teen completes a driver’s education course, and has a good academic record. Ask your insurance carrier what types of discounts they offer and what type of documentation may be required (i.e., driver’s ed completion certificate and school transcript).

    Your Teen and Distracted Driving

    Using cell phones while driving increases the potential for serious injury and death on the road.  In 2020, 3,142 people in this country were killed in motor vehicle crashes caused by distracted drivers.  Texting while driving is by far the most alarming distraction.  Sending out a text, or even just “glancing” at a text, takes your eyes off the road for 5 second.  At 55 mph, that is equal to driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.  

    Washington’s distracted driving law, RCW 46.61.672, prohibits driving while using a “personal electronic device.”  This includes any portable electronic device capable of wireless communication or electronic data retrieval, including cell phones, tablets, laptops, two-way messaging devices, and video games.  It does not include blue-tooth “hands-free” operations or two-way radios.  “Driving” includes momentary stops, such as a stop at a red light or while stalled in traffic.  “Use” includes holding the device in your hand; using your hand/finger to receive or send messages; or watching a video on a device.  

    Teens play an important role and can be the most powerful messengers with their peers. Encourage your teen to sign a pledge never to drive distracted, and encourage them to become involved in the local Students Against Destructive Decisions chapter.  Encourage them to share on social media not to make the devastating choice to drive distracted.  Teens need reminding that a violation of the distracted driving law will lead to a delay, or even suspension, of their driver’s license. 

    Parents play a crucial role as well- we lead by example.  Checking your phone at a stop light is still distracted driving.  Practice safe habits in front of your children.  It can save lives.

    Is driving hard at 16? Driving may seem easy, however, teen drivers are statically shown more likely to be in an accident and more likely to be distracted drivers.


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