Dear Miss School Manners:
When I was a kid, drivers ed was all done through the high schools. Not anymore. We managed to figure out how to get our 15-and-a-half year old son Fortescue (ok, not his real name) enrolled in an online drivers education class. But now we’re trying to get his driver’s permit and the DMV says we need to enroll him in a behind-the-wheel class first. I feel funny using the Yellow Pages to choose a school for something possibly life-threatening.
Signed, Worried in Walnut Creek
Dear Worried, No honey, you use Google. OK, first we’ll talk about the best way to find a driving school you’re comfortable with, then a couple of caveats about scheduling and finally a word about the DMV and how not to get there and discover you’re missing critical paperwork… like us…
(Read more after the jump. Or write to Miss School Manners now.)
In the same way you turned to friends for advice when you were looking for a pediatrician, a preschool and a swim club, start asking around about who they used for their teen’s first behind-the-wheel experience. Oh wait, you just did! (And we like you too.) When we were doing this the first three times – our hair’s turning gray(er) just contemplating the fourth – we used Safest Way out of Walnut Creek, because we saw their little red cars buzzing all over Contra Costa County and that’s who every other teen in our neighborhood used. But there are plenty of other companies out there. The Berkeley Parent Network lists a number of recommendations for Berkeley area driving schools and one in Pleasant Hill. If you’ve got other suggestions, please add them to our comments section or drop us a line.
For those of you just embarking on this process, be aware that if you’re looking for DMV information online, the url is www.dmv.ca.gov/. We’re spelling it out, not just linking, because if you simply Google it, the first link you’re going to get is a driving school (dmv.org). A few years ago, this site looked enough like the real one that it took us a while to realize it was a commercial company out to get our money (as opposed to the real DMV, which is a government site out to get our money). Looks like someone screamed foul since then, however, because it now bills itself as the “unofficial guide to the DMV.” That’s nice, but you still need the official DMV.
California law requires six hours of behind-the-wheel training by a pro, and 50 hours of driving experience total (including those six and 10 hours of nighttime driving) to get a license. Those six hours are generally scheduled in three 2-hour blocks. Do not schedule the first two on consecutive days! The first session focuses on street driving and basics, the second on highway driving. Eighteen hours after his first-ever driving experience, our oldest son was white-knuckled in 680 traffic. Ahem. Now, we schedule the sessions a week or two apart, so we can work in plenty of practice in between.
Other tips: Make sure Fortescue drives every day, even if it’s just a few laps around the block. Leave too much time between practice sessions and it’ll feel like Day Two all over again. If you own more than one car, a behemoth SUV and a subcompact, say, pick one and stick to it. We vote for the subcompact. Easier to drive and less frightening for the rest of us on the road.
Now about that DMV permit. First, we don’t need to tell you to make an appointment, do we? You’ll need to bring proof of Fortescue’s age and legal presence, i.e., citizenship or legal standing in this country – either a notarized birth certificate or U.S. passport. You’ll need $27 for the application fee, Fortescue’s social security number, a certificate of completion from the school where he took his classroom drivers ed class (online schools mail that to you), proof of enrollment from the behind-the-wheel school, and Form DL44 signed by BOTH PARENTS. The form is not downloadable from the DMV web site –and we’re still annoyed about that – but you can pick one up at the DMV. Safest Way had them too, and we should think any drivers school would. Fortescue will take the written test (39 out of 46 questions is a passing score) at the DMV while you sit and fret in a corner. And the permit is not valid until his driving instructor signs off on it the first day of behind-the-wheel training.