How to start learning the rules of the road

Transition students set a lot of goals for themselves. They work on gaining job skills, figuring out public transportation, maybe even learning to cook! For many students, the list also includes passing the driver permit test and getting their driver license.

Why is driving an important achievement? It’s more than just a way to get to and from work. The keys to the car are also keys to independence without relying on others for transportation.

Donna Lowry, Pre-ETS Support Specialist for the InterMountain ESD, understands the challenges transition students face while working toward a driver license—and the motivations too! As one student explained, learning to drive means becoming more responsible and making good decisions. The motivation is gaining the ability to drive to school and work, to friends’ houses, and go out to shop or to eat—rewards that make the effort worthwhile!


Learning to Drive with Pre-ETS Help

Lowry has created a program to help transition students get started on learning the rules of the road. Learning to drive is a skill related to work readiness, so all Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) specialists can help students work toward becoming licensed drivers. As Lowry explained, “This class cannot guarantee success for every student, but it can provide the opportunity to move in that direction.”

Her approach does not teach the driving curriculum. Instead, she focuses on how to study the DMV driver manual, which can be technical and difficult to read. Students also work on visualizing driving situations and recognizing what different road signs mean.

“We talk through different situations that can happen on the road, to make the dry information in the driver instruction book apply to real life. I’m always stopping to take photos of road signs and road conditions to use with students—it helps to make the learning more visual,” said Lowry.

Lowry has made the program available to Pre-ETS specialists throughout Oregon. Pre-ETS specialists are also able to help students with paperwork, and with arranging any accommodations they need during the driver knowledge test.


Ready to get started? Here are your first steps:

Learning the rules of the road starts long before a person ever opens a driving manual. Begin by observing other drivers, watching what happens at intersections, and how drivers react to streetlights and road signs. When you are ready, pick up a driver manual at any DMV office. An audio version of the manual is available online. Serious driving students take the book with them everywhere, to check on questions that arise in real time.

New drivers over age 18 don’t receive a provisional license (also known as a permit.) They also don’t have to take a driver education course. They do, however, need to pass the same knowledge test. This test can be retaken if needed, but it costs five dollars each time.

Typically, people take the test in the DMV office on touch-screen computers. The DMV offices can make accommodations for people with disabilities—simply call your county DMV to make arrangements. Pre-ETS specialists can help with that, but this is a perfect opportunity to practice self-advocacy. Lowry advises that students consider their learning style and take practice tests, then call the office to request the accommodations they need to succeed.

For new drivers who are 16 or 17, a driver education class has many benefits. Passing the class may lower insurance rates, and the driving test is usually part of the course. Students need to pass the knowledge test at the DMV office to get their provisional driving permits.

Tony Summers, Program Manager at High Desert ESD Driver Education, recommends the class as a way to instill good driving habits right from the start. “One surprise most kids have is the need to be constantly aware of everything around you. They have to learn to know what’s happening in front, behind, and on both sides of the car,” he said.

Professional instructors teach the correct way to use the mirrors, to signal, and to make choices while driving. They also stress the need to remove any distractions. “We make sure the cell phones go in the glove box before the car starts, and don’t come out until it has stopped,” said Summers.


When is the best time to start driving? (Hint: there’s no best timeline!)

Lowry and Summers agree that there is no one specific age for getting a driver license – it’s a very individual process. Many young adults don’t begin to think about driving until after they finish school – and many decide that driving is just not for them. At the same time, no one is ever too young to start learning road safety, even if they never plan to drive a car themselves. Learning the rules of the road is a good idea for everyone, whether they travel by bike, on foot, or behind the wheel of a car.