If you're a teen or parent of a teen, getting ready to drive and getting a license is an exciting time. There are a lot of steps to follow for teen driver licensing in California. Here's a guide to help you successfully navigate the process.
First Step: Driver's Education
The first step for teens working toward their driver's license is taking and passing a driver's education course. Driver's ed courses aren't the same as driver training. Driver's education must include at least 30 hours of approved curriculum that covers road safety, traffic laws, driver responsibilities, and how to avoid accidents.
You do have options in driver's education courses, ranging from in-person classes on school campuses to online education programs. Before you enroll, make sure the course is offered through a licensed school and taught by a professional instructor.
Second Step: Driver Training
After classroom education comes training behind the wheel. Driver training (DT) should include at least six hours behind the wheel. This will need to take place on at least three separate days because teens are limited to no more than two hours of DT per day.
Parents should make sure their teen is getting driver training from a licensed school and instructor. The California DMV maintains a school license status information database that will let you know if the school is licensed and bonded by the DMV.
Third Step: Instruction Permit
Teen drivers over age 15 1/2 can apply for their instruction permit at the Department of Motor Vehicles after they complete driver education and are enrolled in a driver training program. To get the permit, teens must complete an application, pay a non-refundable application fee, and have their fingerprints scanned. They'll also have their picture taken and must pass a vision test.
The instruction permit also requires teens to take and pass a knowledge test. If they don't pass the first time, they can retake the test after seven days.
Teens with instruction permits can't drive between 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. They also can't have passengers under age 20 unless they also have a parent, guardian, or licensed driver over age 25 in the car.
Fourth Step: Applying for a Driver's License
The instruction permit (also called a "learner's permit") isn't the same as a driver's license. Teens at least 16 years of age can apply for a driver's license if they can prove they've finished driver education and training and have an instruction permit. The permit must certify that teens have finished at least 50 hours of supervised driving practice, including 10 hours of night driving.
California provides a parent-teen driver training guide that will walk you through the process. The guide is full of helpful information for road safety and information that will reinforce driver education and state laws.
When they're ready, teens should make an appointment at the Department of Motor Vehicles to take their required driver knowledge and in-car driving tests. Driver training and driver education courses, along with the parent-teen training guide, give the information needed to pass these tests.
Fifth Step: Becoming a Licensed California Driver
To receive a provisional driver's license, teens must take and pass California's required driver knowledge and in-car driving skills tests. They must also pay a nonrefundable application fee. Each test allows teens three attempts to pass, but if you fail the driving test, you must pay a retest fee. There is a waiting period of two weeks between the tests if teens fail to pass.
After passing the tests, teens will receive a provisional driver's license. Teens may drive alone during daytime hours, but they have the same restrictions that apply to instruction permits. Teens driving with a provisional license can't legally drive between 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. and can't have passengers under age 20 unless they're accompanied by a licensed driver who is over age 25.
Final Step: No License Restrictions
With safe driving, teens who turn 18 will automatically become fully licensed California drivers and no longer have driving restrictions. If they desire, they can visit the DMV and get a duplicate driver's license without the word "provisional" on it.