Art by Jonan Everett
What’s the Cost of Learning to Drive?
While learning to drive can seem as simple as taking free lessons with a responsible adult, the actual cost is usually much higher. Here's why.
Learning to drive and getting a driver’s license is often seen as a rite of passage. I was excited to have a learner’s permit and a driver’s license and made sure I got them as soon as I was able to. Today, it seems that many teens aren’t quite as eager to do so as those of past generations, but some still are.
Unfortunately, the cost of learning to drive can be quite high. So you and your family can plan ahead, here are some of the expenses that you’ll encounter. Keep in mind that the costs can vary dramatically depending on quite a few factors. Where you live and the laws of your state come into play in this regard, as do considerations such as the type of car you’ll be driving and the auto insurance company your family uses.
Cost of Auto Insurance
The cost of auto insurance can put a huge roadblock in the way of your learning to drive. While many insurance companies and states don’t charge to add a person with a learner’s permit to an insurance policy, others will. The reason some companies don’t charge is because a licensed adult must ride with and supervise the person with a learner’s permit. This supervision reduces the risk of a claim. However, not all companies and states have the same rules. Others may require you to add and pay for a person with a learner’s permit as soon as they get it or, if they still have a learner’s permit when they turn 18, when they turn 18.
Since teenagers have next to no driving experience, auto insurance rates for them can be sky-high. According to CarInsurance.com, coverage for a 16-year-old on his or her own policy costs $5,473 a year. That’s insane! Fortunately, you probably won’t have to pay rates quite that high. If you’re added to your parents’ policy, you’ll most likely get a much cheaper option. This will range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, depending on the state you live in. Additionally, the supposed myth that teenage boys are more expensive to insure than teenage girls is actually a reality.
Cost of a Driver’s Permit and License
In order to start learning how to drive, you’ll technically need a learner’s permit. While your parents might have let you drive their car around a parking lot without a permit, you’ll definitely need one to start learning to drive on the roads. While applying for a learner’s permit is free in some states, it will cost money in others. That said, most places charge less than $25.
In order to actually get your permit, you’ll probably have to pass what is called a “knowledge test” to make sure that you’ve learned the rules of the road.
How you get your learner’s permit, though, will vary from state to state.
For instance, some states might require you to take a driver’s education course first, while others might not require one at all.
After you’ve completed the necessary requirements to actually get your permit, you may have to pay another fee to upgrade to a driver’s license. You may also have to pay a fee of up to $50 to take a road test. In some states, road tests are free unless you’ve failed them a certain number of times. After that, you have to pay. And in the majority of states, driver’s licenses cost less than $100.
Cost of a Classroom Education
Whether or not you need a classroom education to get your learner’s permit or driver’s license depends on the state you reside in. Some states require no formal education. But in those that do, the lengthy classroom education could cost you a pretty penny. Some states offer driver’s education training in high school, while others require you to obtain the training on your own.
Here are two examples of different classroom education requirements:
In Florida, you only have to take a four-hour traffic law and substance abuse course before getting your license. In Virginia, however, you must take a course with 36 classroom periods that has to include nine different topics. As you can imagine, the differing requirements result in different costs if you must take the classes in person. The internet, though, has leveled the playing field a bit: Many states allow you to get this education online. This is potentially cheaper, since no instructor needs to be hired and no classroom needs to be rented.
Cost of On-the-Road Education
As with the other costs associated with getting a driver’s permit and license, the price of on-the-road education will vary from state to state. Some states, like Virginia, require a formal behind-the-wheel instruction course of 14 in-car sessions with a professional driver, half of which are for observation and the rest for driving. You can usually find a provider that charges from $200 to $300 for the course.
On the other hand, many states simply require you to log a certain number of hours behind the wheel with a licensed driver under particular conditions to get your driver’s license. For instance, you may need 50 hours of driving in daylight and 15 hours of driving after sunset before applying for your driver’s license. If you have a qualified and willing adult to perform this role, the actual cost to you is nothing.
Cost of a Car and Fuel
The final major cost of learning to drive is what you must spend on your car and fuel. Most parents will likely allow a child to use the family car to learn. However, some may want the new driver to get his or her own car to instill a feeling of responsibility and reduce the risk of damage to the family car. Thankfully, there are plenty of inexpensive used cars that are perfect for this purpose. The best part? The older the car is, the less likely it will decrease in value while you’re learning to drive.
If you’re required to drive a certain number of hours to obtain a license, that time will eat up fuel. If you’re driving simply to get experience and you need a decent number of hours under your belt, the cost of fuel can add up quickly. But if you get in your driving experience going places you’d go to anyway, there won’t be an additional expense for fuel.
Learning how to drive can be relatively inexpensive or outrageously costly, depending on the state you live in. Prior to getting your permit, do your research to find out every expense you’ll encounter. If you do this far enough in advance, you or your family can start saving ahead of time. This way, you won’t stretch your family budget thin if unexpected costs crop up.
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