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First-time Drivers—What to Know and What to Avoid

Getting your driver's license can be exciting but expensive. Here's how to save.

Written by Lindsay VanSomeren / August 9, 2022

Quick Bites

  • Getting insured as a first-time driver can be expensive, but there are many ways to save.
  • Each state uses a "graduated driver's license" to ease you into driving, but if you're older you may be able to skip some of these steps.
  • If you can, choose a car with high safety ratings in case you get into an accident and save on insurance costs.

Some 87% of eligible people across the country have a driver's license.[1]

Regardless of whether you're an adult learner, a parent looking for their teenager or even a teenager yourself, here's what you'll need to know to go through this process as a first-time driver.

Inside this article

  1. Get your driver's license
  2. Take a driver's education course
  3. Get your learner's permit
  4. Get your unrestricted license
  5. Get a car
  6. Get insured

Get your driver's license

Each state uses some sort of "graduated driver's license" system where you work in a step-by-step approach up to your full driving privileges. States use these programs because they're safer for learning to drive. Since these programs began rolling out around 1996, they've been shown to reduce car crash fatalities among 16-year-olds by 74%, for example.[2]

The exact process you'll need to go through to get your driver's license will vary a lot depending on where you live and how old you are, so it's always best to check with your state's department of motor vehicles for the final word. But in general, here's what you can expect.

Take a driver's education course and pass a written test

The first step for most people is taking a driver's education course. The book learning portion is usually taught in a classroom setting. If you have a choice among driving schools, look for ones with a lower student-to-teacher ratio. There's also usually a hand-on skills portion, where you'll book time to practice one-on-one with a driving instructor.

If you're above a certain age, some states allow adults and older teenagers to skip the driver's education portion if you can demonstrate that you meet certain requirements. In Utah, for example, adults age 19 and over can skip the driver's education course if they're able to pass a written exam and skills-based driving test, as well as holding onto their learner's permit for three months and getting at least 40 hours of logged practice time in.[3]

Get your learner's permit and pass a skills test

The next step in the graduated license process is getting a learner's permit. This is essentially a restricted driving license that usually specifies who can be with you in the vehicle when you're driving. For example, if you have a learner's permit in Virginia, you're generally not allowed to drive unless another licensed driver over age 21 sits beside you in the passenger seat.[4]

After you get your learner's permit, some states may require you to document a certain number of hours of driving. For example, in Michigan you'll need to log at least 50 hours of practice with another licensed driver, and 10 of those hours must occur at night.[5]

After you've completed the requirements for this stage, the next step is usually to pass an in-person skills test. You'll need to demonstrate you can safely do things like merge lanes in traffic, parallel park, etc.

Get your unrestricted license

After you complete all of the requirements and reach a certain age, you can apply for your full, unrestricted license. If you're starting out as an adult, some states let you skip this whole graduated licensing process (or parts of it, at least). For example, if you're trying to get your driver's license in Washington state and you're over 18, you can skip this process entirely if you're able to pass a written and hands-on driving test.[6]

Get a car

A driver's license without any means of using it isn't very useful.

"Oftentimes, parents will give the teens an older, less expensive car to drive," says Janet Ruiz, from the Insurance Information Institute. Or, maybe you're sharing a car with your parents or other family members.

If you're purchasing a car of your own, one thing Ruiz recommends keeping in mind is its safety ratings, which you can find on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website. Cars with better safety ratings can be especially important for first-time drivers, and you may be charged less for insurance too.

Get insured

Many first-time drivers dread the insurance piece of the puzzle, and rightly so. According to one study, the average insurance policy for first-time drivers costs $4,762 per year, or 4.5 times as much as the average minimum-coverage policy for an experienced driver.[7] Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can save.

How Much Is Car Insurance per Month?

How Much Is Car Insurance per Month?

Car insurance premiums can vary greatly and sometimes the cheapest option isn't the best.

Find out more

"It usually is more cost-effective to be a part-time driver on your parent's policy," as opposed to buying an entire policy just for yourself, says Ruiz. Adult first-time drivers may be well past that point, but there are other ways to save. Ruiz recommends shopping around for car insurance companies as much as possible because rates can vary wildly.

Adult drivers also have the advantage of being more likely to have established credit, which can affect your rate in some states. If you're a renter or homeowner and have insurance, it's also a good idea to look into how much you can save by bundling all of your insurance together with one company. If you're older, you may also be better able to afford a policy with a higher deductible. That means you'll pay more if you need to file a claim, but your overall premium costs will be lower each year.

Best Auto Insurance Companies of 2022

Best Auto Insurance Companies of 2022

How do the major auto insurance companies stack up when we compare their premiums, coverage and customer satisfaction?

Find out more

Finally, consider going with an insurance company that offers discounts for using a plug-in telematics device or mobile app.

"It would be good for any person who's just starting out," says Ruiz. "It'll tell you if you're stopping too abruptly a lot, those types of things."

That feedback can be an important learning tool to help you drive safer so that you lower your chances of needing to file an insurance claim in the first place.

Article Sources
  1. "LICENSED DRIVERS BY SEX AND RATIO TO POPULATION - 2019 (1)," Federal Highway Administration, https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2019/pdf/dl1c.pdf.
  2. "Graduated driver licensing (GDL) in the United States in 2016: A literature review and commentary," Journal of Safety Research, Dec. 2017, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022437517303493.
  3. "Driver License FAQs," Utah Department of Public Safety, https://dld.utah.gov/driver-license-faqs/.
  4. "Learner's Permit Information," Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/drivers/#learners.asp.
  5. "New drivers," Michigan Department of State, https://www.michigan.gov/sos/license-id/new-drivers
  6. "Instruction permits," Washington State Department of Licensing, https://www.dol.wa.gov/driverslicense/getpermit.html.
  7. "Getting Car Insurance for New Drivers (2022)," QuoteWizard, https://quotewizard.com/auto-insurance/car-insurance-for-new-drivers.

About the Author

Lindsay Vansomeren

Lindsay VanSomeren

Lindsay was inspired to start writing about personal finance after seeing how much good financial management impacted her life in getting out of six-figure debt. Now she hopes to help others improve their finances too, so they can get rid of financial stress, live the lives they want, and strengthen their communities. Her work has appeared in Credit Karma, Forbes Advisor, LendingTree, The Balance, and more.

Full bio

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