Updated December 05, 2019
Driving is -- as you'll often be reminded -- a privilege, not a right, and you'll need to take it seriously to avoid paying more than you absolutely have to in increased insurance fees, traffic tickets, surcharges for accidents and all the other things that can befall a brand new driver.
The first thing you need to do is investigate where to get your Driver's Ed training. For the purposes of this article, we're really focused on the classroom portion of the training. At the moment, there's no virtual reality substitute for driving around your town with a rumpled instructor in his 2003 Ford Fusion, so you'll still need to do the driving hours in person. But more and more states are allowing online Driver's Ed for the classroom portion of the training, which will not only save you from having to sit in a hot room with your drowsy, sullen peers, it should save you money, too.
Let's start with our recommendations...
5 Best Online Driver's Ed Courses for Teens
- DriversEd.com See pricing for DriversEd.com online driver's ed courses »
- Improv Traffic School
- First Time Driver
How We Compared Online Driver's Ed CoursesThese courses are designed to help new drivers qualify for a learner's permit and fulfill the classroom requirements towards earning a driver's license. You can expect to receive a driver's education transcript after passing the course. When you receive that transcript, you can then register for your driving hours with a certified instructor.
Many online driver's ed programs claim to be the "most popular" or "#1 in the industry" and maybe one of them actually is - who knows? We think you just need to choose a course that (a) is actually licensed in your state, (b) is taught by professional instructors, and (c) receives positive reviews from customers. We narrowed our recommendations to online driver's ed programs that are highly popular on the web (as evidenced by a number of users) and have at least 90% positive reviews on customer feedback websites that have at least 1,000 reviews from customers of the driver's ed course.
- In our assessment, DriversEd.com has the most comprehensive coverage of online driver's ed courses across most states.
- Course prices range from state to state. Alabama online driver's ed costs less than $30 whereas it costs four times that in Virginia.
- It also offers behind-the-wheel training in Texas, California, and Georgia.
- Our research on DriversEd.com turned up the following: over 1.0 million monthly users, 94% of reviews are Great or Excellent (Trustpilot), A+ BBB rating
- See pricing for DriversEd.com online driver's ed courses »
- State approved in TX, CA, PA, FL, GA, IL, NV, OH, OK
- Course prices range from $50 to $120 depending on your state (can be lower when Aceable is offering a discount - check the website).
- Can take the course on your smartphone or computer. Downloadable course app. Hey, you gotta have something to do on the treadmill!
- Our research on Aceable.com turned up: over 800,000 monthly users (fastest growing among the large online course providers), 98% of reviews are Great or Excellent (Trustpilot)
- See pricing for Aceable online drivers ed courses »
- State approved in CA, FL, GA, IN, KY, and NV
- Courses prices range from less than $15 up to $100, depending on state and the course.
- The point of Improv Traffic School is that learn-to-drive courses can be boring and a comedian’s take on teaching can help a student stay awake and actually learn. We get that. If zoning out in class runs in your family and you live in one of the few states where Improv is licensed, it’s a good option.
- Our research on Improve Traffic School turned up: over 250,000 monthly users, 93% of reviews are 4 or 5 stars (Shopper Approved)
- State approved in CA, CO, FL, GA, IN, KY, NV, OK, TX, PA, and VA
- Courses generally priced from $25 to $100 depending on the state (check the website for any online discounts).
- Our research on iDriveSafely turned up: about 1.1 million monthly users, 94% of reviews are Great or Excellent (Trustpilot), A+ BBB rating.
- See pricing for iDriveSafely online drivers ed courses »
- Available in TX, CA, FL, CO, GA, PA, IL, IN, NV, OH, OK, and VA
- Courses prices from less than $25 up to $100, depending on your state and the course
- Our research on First Time Driver turned up: a little under 200,000 monthly users (but growing), 92% of reviews are 4 or 5 stars (Shopper Approved), parent company American Safety Council has BBB rating A+
Obviously, these classes can change at any time, so we'll continue to keep an eye on them and keep our recommendations updated.
What About Classroom and Behind-the-Wheel Driver's Ed?
We’re going to break driver’s education in to two groups for the purposes of this discussion. There are many more types of driver’s education, and we’ll talk about several of those in the section entitled “ADVANCED DRIVER TRAINING” below. Right now, we’re talking about the very basic driver’s ed that’s going to allow you to take your state’s driving test:
Public Driver’s Education
Depending upon your community, you may be offered some type of public driver’s education option. Public driver’s education relies upon teachers or coaches from the local high school that has been certified as driving instructors by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The classroom portions of these classes take place in high school. Fees for public driver’s education may be lower than those of a private driver’s ed class. It’s a good idea to check with your local high school to find out if your community offers such a program.
Private Driver’s Education
Private Driver’s Education is administered by a private agency licensed by the state to train young drivers. Private classes may be at the driving school’s facility, or they may have an arrangement with the local high school to offer classes after normal school hours.
There are some benefits to enrolling for driver’s ed, either privately or through a high school:
- Driver’s ed may allow you to take your state’s road test sooner than you would be able to if you didn’t take the class. For example, some states may make you wait until the age of 18 to take a road test without driver’s ed.
- Classroom hours are valuable in learning the rules of the road.
- You’ll be using the school’s car for your practice hours, which may be smaller and easier to manage than mom’s enormous Yukon XL.
- It’s a great advantage to be in the car with other students as they’re logging their training hours. There’s no better way to identify mistakes or best practices than to see others doing it.
- Finally, is your dad really patient enough to teach you how to pilot a 4,000 pound automobile?
What to Look for in a Local Driver's Ed Course
Like any business, private driver’s education programs run the gamut from exceptional to exceptionally bad, but with a bit of planning upfront, you can learn a lot about the facility and feel confident that it’s going to provide the training that will make you a better driver. Some things to think about as you evaluate schools in your area:
- Quality of Vehicles: Listen, when you do nothing but train new drivers day in and day out, cars are going to show dings, scratches and other signs of wear. But the cars should be late model, all the lights and turn signals should work, and they should be ready to run on a moment’s notice.
- Student to Instructor Ratio: How many students will the teachers have at any given time? The in-car class time is limited to how many seats are in a particular car, but you don’t want to be in a packed classroom with 40 other students.
- Recent Training Materials: Dog-eared books with pages of instruction on hand signals aren’t going to teach you much about operating a modern automobile. Look for a school that has up-to-date training materials. Online study materials are a major plus.
- Certifications: States typically certify driver’s education schools through the Department of Motor Vehicles, but two other bodies provide sets of best practices for schools to follow. The American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association and Driving School Association of the Americas are both noted professional associations that certify schools.
- Parental Involvement: States are beginning to require that parents be directly involved in driver training. For example, in Massachusetts, parents are required to attend a two-hour class on the content of the program. Even if it’s not a state requirement, choose a school that encourages and can help facilitate parental involvement in the training process.
- Better Business Bureau Rating: Most Driver’s Education schools are going to be on file with the Better Business Bureau. Check the school’s rating, and marry that with any information you can glean through Google Reviews, Yelp or other social media rating sites.
- Discounts: Many schools offer discounts if you’re a AAA member, but ask if there are discounts via your insurance company, employer or school.
Advanced Driver Training
Once you’ve gone through driver’s ed and gotten your license, don’t think your education has come to an end. In fact, it’s just beginning. With every mile you drive, with every intersection you cross, you’ll be learning how to drive safely and how to interact with other drivers on the road. That real-world experience is invaluable, but how do you practice for the unthinkable?
The job of a driver’s ed course is to teach you how to safely operate an automobile under fairly optimal conditions. The training is never designed to teach you how to react in an emergency. Your practice time with your parents or guardians is great, but they most likely don’t have the wherewithal to teach you about the intricacies of how anti-lock brakes perform, or how stability control will help you to avoid a skid. Technology has changed drastically since your parents learned to drive, and the lessons that they may remember often don’t apply to a modern automobile.
That’s where Advanced Driver Training comes in. These programs are designed for young people who have a driver’s license, but have minimal time behind the wheel, and they’re designed to show students how all of these technologies work in a safe, controlled environment, but at the kind of speeds that can get teens in trouble in the real world.
In an anti-lock braking exercise, for example, instructors will demonstrate how to fully activate the brakes and swerve to avoid an obstacle like a stopped vehicle in your lane.
One program – B.R.A.K.E.S. – was founded by former NHRA Top Fuel racing champion Doug Herbert, whose teen sons were killed in a car crash that stemmed from the kind of inexperience and immaturity that we’ve talked about here. The B.R.A.K.E.S. program is sponsored by Kia Motors and trains students all over the country. The program is free, though students are asked to place a nominal deposit to hold their space in the class, which is refunded once the class is completed. Similarly, Ford Motor Company has run its Ford Driving Skills for Life program for more than a decade, teaching many of the same advanced skills as the B.R.A.K.E.S. program.
Top Online Driving Courses for Insurance Discounts, Points Reduction and/or Ticket Dismissal
Okay, you screwed up. Or maybe you’re a super-goody-two-shoes who actually has two matching shoes. Fine, Your Majesty, here you go:
These courses are designed for existing drivers to help reduce their car insurance premiums with defensive driving discounts, and in some jurisdictions may help reduce points from or even dismiss traffic tickets, or regain a driver’s license. Be sure to call your insurance company and make sure they’ll give you credit for taking the course!
The aim is for more drivers to act defensively and drive safely, regardless of their years of experience. Depending on your state, the courses may be called "Defensive Driving," "Driver Improvement," or "Traffic School." We've taken inventory of the most popular courses and have made recommendations here: best online traffic schools.
Online Driver’s Education: Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Can I take driver's ed online?
Answer: You've really got to do the research in your individual state to know whether or not the class you're about to pay for is licensed in your state. There are plenty of shady operators that are willing to take your money for nothing, so clear, visible license number should be obvious on the registration page for any online vendor
Question: If I take an online driver's ed course do I need to take behind-the-wheel training separately?
Answer: The requirements vary by state, but the answer is almost always YES. Most states require that if you're under the age of 18 that you spend a number of hours behind the wheel with an instructor. Massachusetts, for example, ups the ante a bit by requiring parents or guardians to provide several hours of that instruction, along with the requisite time with a licensed instructor. You can find the links to each state's driver's license and learner's permit requirements here: Car Talk's Guide to Getting a Driver's License.
Question: What is the difference between a driver's ed and traffic school?
Answer: When we say "Driver's Ed," we're talking about classes -- both in the classroom and in the car -- that provide students with the information and practice they need to get a provisional driver's license. "Traffic School" is a whole different type of training primarily designed for existing drivers who have either gotten traffic tickets or insurance surcharges that they'd like to remove.
Question: Can you get credit for parent-taught driver's ed?
Answer: In some states, such as Texas, a parent/guardian can be qualified online as their kid’s driving instructor. So that behind-the-wheel training can be in your own car and on your own time. Be careful what you wish for! Check with the online drivers education companies above on how to get set up for parent-taught driver's ed.
Question: How do I teach my kid to be a safe driver?
Answer: Well this isn't something to take lightly. First, take a look at Car Talk's Guide to Teen Driving where we have included many recommendations, sources, and an editable "Teen Driving Contract." Second, and perhaps most importantly, lead by example. Kids take a cue from their parents. If you flout traffic laws, drive over the speed limit and text while driving, your kids take notice. You may remember the TV public service ads to combat drug use, "Dad, I learned it from watching you." The same applies to bad driving habits.
Question: What is a "Defensive Driving" class?
Answer: Defensive driving courses can teach the most important strategies for keeping safe on the road. Some people take them to receive an insurance discount, reduce traffic ticket fines, clear a ticket, or remove points from your driving record. But you or a family member may also consider taking a defensive driving course for an even more important benefit -- your own safety.
Question: What is a "Driver Improvement" class?
Answer: Similar to a defensive driving course, but often with a specific goal such as clearing a speeding ticket or reducing fines. Generally, “Traffic School” and “Driver Improvement" courses mean the same thing.
Question: Can I get an insurance discount after taking an online driver's ed or a defensive driving class?
Answer: Many insurance companies -- if not most of them -- offer discounts for certain drivers who take a defensive driving course. Seniors and younger drivers are most often in the higher risk categories, and some insurers limit the discount to these groups. Check with your insurance company to find out what’s available for you -- the course may pay for itself.
Editor's note and disclaimer: Car Talk is supported by our fans, readers and listeners. When you click on some of the links on our website, we may receive referral compensation. However, you should know that the recommendations we make are based on our independent editorial review and analyses.