Driving Instruction

Behind the Wheel in Virginia: Everything You Need to Know

July 25, 2022

In Virginia, Behind the Wheel classes are required if you want to get a license before turning 18. (And even for some people over the age of 18, but we’ll get to that later.)  Since all teenagers under 18 need Behind the Wheel, we are devoting a full blog post to sharing everything you need to know about Behind the Wheel in Virginia. 


In this blog post, you will find answers to common questions such as:

  • What are the prerequisites for Behind the Wheel?
  • Is Behind the Wheel required if I am 18?
  • What is on the Behind the Wheel test in VA?
  • How much does Behind the Wheel cost in Virginia?
  • Are there alternative ways to take the road test in Virginia?


We’ll also introduce one of the best places to find “Behind the Wheel programs near me” in central Virginia.

What You Need to Know About Virginia Behind the Wheel Classes

Let’s start by explaining what Behind the Wheel is (and what it isn’t.) 


In order to get a driver’s license before turning 18, young drivers must fulfill a long list of requirements. One of these is to complete both the classroom and driving portions of an approved Driver’s Education program. “Behind the Wheel” is the official name for the in-car portion of Driver’s Ed. 


Contrary to how it sounds, however, Behind the Wheel is NOT designed to teach driving skills. 


Behind the Wheel comes as the final step in the teenager’s process of gaining a license. On the last day of Behind the Wheel, the student takes the road test and receives a VA license. Students need to be ready to have their license in order to start Virginia Behind the Wheel classes.

What are the prerequisites in Virginia for Behind the Wheel classes?


We’ve just said that in Virginia, Behind the Wheel classes are the final step in the licensure process. Here is the full list of requirements for getting a license before age 18:


  1. Get a learner’s permit (and have it for 9 months.) 
  2. Complete the classroom portion of Driver’s Ed, including the 90-minute parent component.
  3. Complete 45 hours of practice driving, at least 15 hours of which must be after dark. (Log your hours using the Parent/Teen Drive Guide.)
  4. Become comfortable driving on all normal roads, including residential, rural, main roads, interstates, cities, and parking.
  5. Complete a Behind the Wheel program and pass the final road test for VA.


But if, in Virginia, Behind the Wheel classes don’t teach driving, what DO they do? And how are students SUPPOSED to learn to drive? 

Behind the Wheel is a road test in Virginia


In Virginia, Behind the Wheel classes do not primarily teach driving; they test driving skills.  


Virginia requires teenagers in Behind the Wheel to drive 7 times for 50 minutes. Each time, a certified instructor will observe and give input. During these sessions, the student will drive in a variety of contexts, including neighborhood driving, highway driving, city driving, and complete maneuvers such as roundabouts, U-turns, and all kinds of parking. After driving for 50 minutes, the student will switch to the back seat and watch another student drive. Each session, then, is 100 minutes long - 50 minutes of driving and 50 minutes of sitting in the back seat to observe. 


In the final drive session, the student will take the official DMV road test for VA. In order to pass this test, the student must be able to drive without committing any offense worthy of a ticket, causing a crash, or losing control of the car.  They also must not make more than 10 (more minor) mistakes specified by the DMV.  


After passing the Behind the Wheel driving test, the VA student will receive a Temporary Driver’s License, which is good for 6 months. During that time, the DMV will process the student’s documents, and the county court will get in touch with the family as to how to receive the student’s permanent license. 


How are students supposed to learn to drive?


If Virginia Behind the Wheel classes do not teach driving, who is supposed to teach teenagers how to drive? This responsibility usually falls to their parents. 


The DMV has provided a Parent/Teen Drive Guide which is full of excellent information and suggestions for teenagers learning to drive and parents learning to teach them. As of July 2022, all schools in Virginia must offer a 90-minute parent/student component to Classroom Driver’s Ed. The information in this short class will assist parents in taking on the challenge of teaching their teenagers how to drive.


If teaching your child to drive sounds intimidating (or even unsafe), you are not alone. Driving involves a host of micro-skills that are mostly unconscious to experienced drivers. This, paired with the serious dangers of driving, can make teaching beginners very difficult. Some teenagers pick up the skills easily, but many do not. Consider professional private driving lessons if you are struggling to teach your teenager to drive or simply want them to benefit from an experienced teacher in a car equipped with an instructor brake. 


Private driving lessons may sound like a luxury, but laying the foundation for a lifetime of safe and legal driving pays for itself many times over. Compare the price of a driving class to the expenses of tickets, traffic school, or even the most minor fender bender accident - not to mention more serious, life shattering accidents.


 At Colonial Driving School we offer a beginner package to teach students of any age how to operate a vehicle skillfully, legally, and defensively. We equip students to not only pass their road test but avoid tickets and accidents throughout their lives. 


Is Behind the Wheel required for those over 18?


Teenagers are required to take Behind the Wheel in order to get a license before turning 18. But is Behind the Wheel required for those 18 and older? No. Adults age 18 or older have two options for getting their driver’s license: 


1. They may choose to take the road test in a Virginia DMV. 

2. Or complete an approved Adult Driver’s Education program, including both Classroom and Adult Behind the Wheel. 


Some families prefer their new driver demonstrate his/her driving skills through a more extensive Behind the Wheel test, rather than go through the VA DMV. Another reason for preferring Adult Behind the Wheel over a DMV road test is that completing an Adult Driver’s Ed program allows an experienced driver to avoid the mandatory 60-day waiting period after getting their learner’s permit. 


Best Behind the Wheel Programs Near Me  

When choosing a Behind the Wheel program, one thing you may want to consider is Behind the Wheel prices. How much does Behind the Wheel cost in Virginia? There is no universal answer. Prices vary with inflation and with the price of gas. It also depends on where you attend. This said, you generally have two options for taking Behind the Wheel: Through a public high school or through a commercial driving school. Both have pros and cons.


Behind the Wheel at public high schools 


The cheapest place to take Driver’s Ed is almost always through the public school system. Public schools are not allowed to make any kind of profit from what the students pay for Behind the Wheel, and the schools receive subsidies to offset costs. Ergo, the price to the student is usually significantly lower than what is possible through a commercial school. 


Taking Behind the Wheel through public high school does, however, have some drawbacks. For one thing, not all schools offer Driver’s Ed. And those that do often have long waiting lists for Behind the Wheel, delaying students who could otherwise have a license. 


Behind the Wheel at commercial driving schools


Alternatively, students can complete Behind the Wheel through a commercial driving school. These schools’ Behind the Wheel programs' prices are usually more expensive, though competition between driving schools keeps Behind the Wheel prices as low as possible. 


Market competition also causes commercial schools to compete to provide the greatest value to the student and their families. Commercial schools often have wide ranges of time options, including weekends and holidays. Commercial schools sometimes even offer to come pick up students and drop them back off at their homes, providing maximum convenience to busy parents. When considering “Behind the Wheel programs near me,” look at Google Reviews to find the best programs with the happiest customers.


If you are looking for Teenager Behind the Wheel or Adult Behind the Wheel in the greater Richmond area, we invite you to consider Colonial Driving School. Colonial Driving School has been serving Richmond, Chester, Colonial Heights, Petersburg, and surrounding areas for over 30 years. We pride ourselves on excellent customer service and with providing each and every student with driving skills to last a lifetime. Give us a call; we would love to assist you in your journey to becoming a skillful, licensed driver.