The Lowdown on Teen Driving – From Teens

Getting your license is one of those big moments you only experience once in a lifetime and many people have a “getting my license” memory or story.

My memory involves three trips to the Department of Licensing. Each time my goal was to leave the place as an official licensed driver, but I kept forgetting some form of paperwork or bringing the wrong relative.

Becoming a new driver can be an unfamiliar, but rewarding process. Independence comes with a new license and teenagers often begin to feel more responsible. You know you’re really growing up when you no longer mistake the gas pedal for the brake.

Julianna Yakovac is headed to her night class at South Puget Sound Community College.
Julianna Yakovac is headed to her night class at South Puget Sound Community College.

Thurston County is a great place to live when you can drive. Teens have the opportunity to become more involved in their community when they have the freedom to drive. Raquel Parada has gotten her permit recently and is ready for her license. “I’m looking forward to the freedom once I get my license and being able to drive on my own,” she says.

Local volunteer organization, gyms, parks, and community places are all gathering spots to visit on the road towards adulthood and allow an individual to expand involvement in the world of Thurston County. Students can venture off on their own and explore. Why not take a day trip to Seattle or Ocean Shores? Buckle up that seat belt and hit the open road.

However, before teenagers get behind the wheel, there are important lessons to be learned to better insure their safety. “Never trust other drivers,” advises Julianna Yakovac, a junior at North Thurston High School. “Just because they have a blinker on, doesn’t mean they’re turning.”

911 Driving School teaches new drivers the rules of the road.
911 Driving School teaches new drivers the rules of the road.

Students can enroll in a driver’s education class at the age of 15. Here they will learn the rules of the road. Before my first day of driver’s ed, I didn’t even realize that as a driver you were always supposed to be on the right side of the road (unless it’s a one way street) and I was very concerned about how I would figure out which lane I was supposed to be in. “Before I ever got behind to wheel I was nervous about uphill parking, driving in busy areas and especially the freeway,” Raquel says.

Julianna has been driving for about a year now, but she too had concerns when she first started. “No one ever told me how to pump gas. The first time I tried I ended up sitting in my car for a while trying to find the lever that opened the gas tank. My car is older so it doesn’t actually have a lever. You have to open the gas tank from outside, but how was I supposed to know that?,” Julianna shares.

In Olympia, there are many options for driver’s education classes. 911 Driving School and Cascade Driving School are both very popular choices, but there is also the option of enrolling in driver’s education classes at local high schools. When taking a driver’s ed class, students already have their permits allowing them to drive with the instructors. At the end of the course, they need to pass both a written exam and a physical driving test. Once completed, it’s off to the Department of Licensing for the real deal.

After passing, teens are issued an “Intermediate License” lasting until they are 18.  These licenses do not afford teens all the privileges of veteran, adult drivers.

Cascade Driving School is a popular choice for many local high school students looking to take driver's ed.
Cascade Driving School is a popular choice for many local high school students looking to take driver’s ed.

During the first six months with a new license, teens can only drive alone or with immediate family and passengers over the age of 20. Carpooling is not an option for new drivers until after the six-month mark. While this may seem restrictive, it is important for new drivers to focus without distractions.

During the second six months, a new driver may carry up to three passengers under the age of 20 who are not family members. Additionally, drivers are not allowed to drive between the hours of 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. for their entire first year unless accompanied by someone over 25. And of course, it is unlawful to text or use a mobile device while driving. All restrictions are lifted after a teen has reached one year with a license with a clean driving record.

texting safety
Local insurance agent Ronelle Funk hands out a reminder of the consequences of distracted driving to area teens during texting and driving presentations at local high schools.

Teens and adults alike should never use their phones while driving. Cell phones are involved in nearly 1.6 million automobile related accidents annually. In 2010, it became illegal in Washington State to operate a cell phone while in a running a vehicle. With new technology and social media it can be hard not to reach for your phone in the car. Snapchat and other time-sensitive “look at me now” apps have taken over and although it is tempting to send messages while driving, it’s extremely dangerous and illegal. How do teens deal with the temptation?  “I silence my notifications, plug my phone in and leave it alone,” Julianna Yakovac shares.

Being a new driver is very exciting, especially for teens. But along with the added freedom comes added responsibility. Following the law, keeping yourself and your passengers safe, is priority number one. No one wants to be the cause of an accident. Keep your eyes on the road, Thurston County.

For full details on teen driving in Washington State visit the Department of Licensing’s web site here.

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