Applying for a New License (Teen Drivers) in California
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For teens, getting a driver’s license is an exciting experience. Just think about it! No more trying to catch a ride to the mall or waiting around for your parents to pick you up after practice. Once you have your California driver’s license in hand, those days will be long gone.
Although the process of getting your license might seem complicated, we’ve made it much easier to understand by explaining the process in a simple, easy to follow manner.
That’s what we’re all about at DMV.org, after all.
If you’ve already taken a Driver’s Ed course in another state, you cannot use an out-of-state driving instructional permit for your proof of course completion. Instead, the DMV will accept one of the following:
- A completed "Secondary Schools Other Than California Schools" form (DL 33) completed by your out-of-state secondary school. You can request this form by calling (800) 777-0133 or pick one up at your nearest DMV office.
- A letter printed on school stationery and signed by a school official from your out-of-state secondary school stating that you completed a course equivalent to California’s as described in Section 10020 of Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations.
Many states, including California, have adopted a Graduated Driver License (GDL) program during which teens must reach certain milestones prior to obtaining their driver licenses. Many of these milestones are age- and experience-related tasks, and are designed to minimize the risks associated with first-time drivers.
Let’s get started.
- 15 ½ years old: Must take driver's education to get a provisional permit.
- 16 years old: Eligible for an intermediate license (with completion of driver’s education).
- 17½ Years Old: Allowed to apply for a provisional permit without taking driver's education.
- 18 Years and Older: Allowed to apply for a driver's license without getting a learner's permit.
Driver’s Ed is required for all California teens between 15 ½ and 17 ½ years old. If you have reached the age of 17 ½, you may apply for your permit without having first taken a driver’s education course, but it is strongly recommended that you go through a Driver’s Ed program to fully prepare yourself for the road.
For more information about California’s driver’s education requirements, please visit our Driver’s Ed page.
If you’re between the ages of 15 ½ and 18, you’ll apply for a provisional permit. The difference is that teens under 17 ½ need to complete Driver’s Ed, whereas teens 17 ½ and up can obtain their permit without Driver’s Ed.
We’ve outlined the basics for you below, and you can read on for more information about each step.
- Complete a state-approved 30-hour driver's education course (if under 17 ½ years)
- Verify you’re at least 15 ½ years old and younger than age 18.
- Verify your legal presence. You can use a birth certificate or passport, but you must provide your true full name if it’s different than what’s on your legal presence document.
- Complete the application, Form DL-44, with parent signatures. You can get this form at your local DMV.
- Pay an application fee of $32.
- Pass a traffic laws and signs test. (Make an appointment to take test.)
- Pass a vision exam.
Provisional Permit: Ages 15 ½ to 17 ½
So, you’re between the ages of 15½ and 17 ½. Now that we’ve got you in the right section, let’s break down this complicated process into simple terms.
The first milestone on your path to your driver’s license is obtaining a provisional permit.
Enroll in Driver’s Ed
Drivers younger than 17 ½ must complete a driver’s education course prior to obtaining their provisional permits. The course must include at least 30 hours of instruction and taught at a public or private high school or by a state-licensed driver’s education school..
California allows you to take a Driver’s Ed course in a traditional classroom setting or you can complete it online. The advantages of taking it online have increased dramatically in recent years. The important thing is that you get to choose!Find an Approved Online or Private Classroom
Take a Practice Test
Another excellent way to prepare for the DMV Written Exam is to study with the help of an Online Practice Test. These virtual cheat sheets have taken information directly from the DMV handbook and deliver it in an easy-to-retain format to help you pass the test on your first attempt. What are you waiting for? Get your practice test now.
Pass the Written Exam
Once you’ve completed Driver’s Ed and polished your skills with a practice test, it’s time to head to the DMV for your written exam.
Here’s what you need to bring:
- A completed original Form DL-44 (This form must be picked up at the DMV in person and cannot be downloaded, sorry.)
- Proof of your full name, age and social security number
- Certificates of Completion for Driver Education and Driver Training
Don’t forget a parent or guardian to sign off on the paperwork!
This test will be comprised of written questions about California traffic laws, road signs, and rules of safe driving. The test will be taken from material found in the DMV Handbook. There are 46 questions on the DMV exam. A passing score is at least 39 correct answers. You will have three chances to pass. If you fail the exam, the DMV requires you to wait 7 days before taking the exam again.
Once you pass the written test and pay the required $32 fee, you’ll earn your Provisional Permit. This $32 fee covers a total of 3 exams within a 12 month period and pays for both the Learner’s Permit and Driver’s License. However, if all requirements are not met within the 12 month period, the application is considered void and all steps must be repeated.
Get Behind-the-Wheel Training
Once you have your provisional permit, it’s time to get busy. Your permit basically says that you understand the principles of being a responsible driver, but you still need some practice.
How much practice, you ask? Good question.
With your learner’s permit in hand, you must log 50 hours of driver training with a licensed driver over 25 years of age. 10 of these hours must also be at night. You will also be required to complete an additional six hours of driver training with a professional instructor.
Provisional Permit: Age 17½
So you’re at least 17½ and you haven’t had your 18th birthday yet. That means the process is a little easier for you than younger first-time drivers. You still need to get a Provisional Permit to drive, but you are no longer required to take a Driver's Ed course. All you need to do is study and make an appointment at the DMV for your written exam.
Be sure to bring to the DMV:
- Proof of your full name, age and Social Security number.
- A completed original Form DL-44. (This form must be picked up at the DMV in person and cannot be downloaded, sorry.)
- A parent or guardian to sign off on the paperwork.
You will need to fulfill the same behind-the-wheel requirement of 50 hours, with 10 hours being driven at night (see above). You may then take your road test and apply for your intermediate license.
After you have held your provisional permit for a minimum of 6 months (and you are at least 16 years old), and you have completed your 50 hours of behind-the-wheel training, you may apply for your intermediate driver’s license, called a Provisional Driver’s License.
Take the Road Test
When you make your appointment for your behind-the-wheel driving test, you will need bring the following with you:
- Your instruction permit
- Proof of vehicle registration and insurance for the vehicle you will be testing in
- Your parent or guardian
After you pass your road test, you can drive solo without supervision; however, during the first 12 months of licensing, there will be a couple restrictions:
- You can’t drive between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
- You can’t have any passengers under 20 years of age in your car, unless you’re with a licensed driver over 25 years old.
The only exceptions to these restrictions are if you need to travel for:
- A medical emergency or the immediate need of a member of your family
- School or work-related necessities
- Employment purposes
Once you turn 18 years old, the provisional restrictions will fall off, and you will be the proud carrier of an unrestricted California driver’s license! Congratulations!
California Motorcycle Instruction Permit
Want to travel on two wheel instead of four? Getting a motorcycle permit is similar to the processes described above, but you’ll need to study some more motorcycle-specific content.
Check out DMV.org’s Motorcycle License page to get all the info on exams, permits, and licenses.
Auto insurance is required by law and important in protecting yourself financially if there is an accident. Adding a teen driver may significantly increase the cost of auto insurance premiums so it is a good idea to check with multiple auto insurance companies to find the best coverage.
Provisional Permit Insurance
Teens with permits may be covered under the insurance of the adult licensed driver who is riding with them. It is important to contact your insurance company to verify that the teen driver is covered when driving the vehicle with an adult. If not, it is very important to get an insurance policy that covers the teen driving with a permit.
Provisional License Insurance
Teen drivers with a provisional driver's license are required to show proof of insurance in order to get their license. Teens may be added to an existing family policy, a parent's policy, or get their own policy.
There may be opportunities for teens and their families to qualify for discounts from insurance companies. For more information about discounts, rates, and coverage, visit the DMV.org pages:
- Teen Guide to Car Insurance
- Buying Car Insurance for Teens
- Saving Money on Teen Car Insurance
- Adding Teens to Your Car Insurance Policy
- California Insurance Center
So there you have it. That’s the simple path to your California driver’s license brought to you by DMV.org. We look forward to seeing you on the road and we hope that we were able to help you become a smarter, safer, more confident driver!
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