California Driving Laws For Minors

Teenagers beginning their driving journey can be an equally exciting and stressful experience for both the student and their parents. Teens often look forward to getting a little bit of independence, which can be pretty convenient for their guardian, too. 

However, driving can be dangerous, especially when drivers don’t know or follow the rules. That lack of understanding can cause driving anxiety and unsafe driving practices in young drivers—and worry parents.

This is why learning California driving laws for minors is so crucial for both parents and teens. California has specific rules in place for minors to keep them and other drivers safe on the road. These laws are in place to help young drivers avoid license points, promote safe driving, and reduce teen-related collisions. 

As teens earn their provisional licenses and permits, they can be better prepared when they and their parents fully grasp these California driving laws for minors.

Getting Your California Instruction Permit

Firstly, let’s talk about a learners permit. Students need to meet the following requirements as teenagers in California (meaning they are under 18 years of age) to pursue their instruction permit. Check out the basic requirements below:

  • Age Requirement: The applicant must be at least 15 ½ years old.

  • Complete DL 44 Form: The applicant must complete a Driver License or Identification Card Application (DL 44) form with signatures from a parent or guardian.

  • Provide Required Documents: The applicant must present an acceptable birth date/legal presence or identity documents as specified by the California DMV.

  • Driver Education: The applicant must provide a certificate of completion of a driver education course approved by the DMV or show proof of enrollment in an integrated driver education/driver training program.

  • Application Fee: The applicant must pay the required application fee. The fee amount may vary and should be verified with the DMV.

  • Vision Exam: The applicant must pass a vision exam administered by the DMV.

  • Photograph and Fingerprint: The applicant must have a photograph taken and provide a fingerprint.

  • Knowledge Test: The applicant must pass a knowledge test with a minimum passing score of 80%. The knowledge test covers traffic laws, road signs, and safe driving practices.

  • Number of Attempts: Applicants are allowed three attempts to pass the California DMV permit test within a year.

  • Waiting Period: If the applicant fails the knowledge test, they must wait at least 7 days before attempting the test again.

Teens and their parents or guardians should make sure they have all of the necessary paperwork and meet the other requirements before applying for the instruction permit. One non-negotiable for the student is reading the California Driver Handbook thoroughly to prepare for the knowledge test. 

Once the permit is obtained, teens can begin practicing driving under the supervision of a licensed adult driver.

Instruction Permit Restrictions

When a driver obtains an instruction permit in California, specific restrictions accompany it. These restrictions are additional safety measures that keep a teenager’s driving practices aligned with California driving laws for minors.

  • Driver Training Requirement: The instruction permit is not considered valid until the permit holder begins their driver training. This means that the permit holder can only drive alone once they are actively participating in a driver training program.

  • Supervised Driving Requirement: Permit holders must be accompanied by a licensed parent, guardian, spouse, or adult aged 25 or older with a valid California drivers license whenever they are driving. This accompanying adult must be present in the vehicle at all times while the permit holder is in the drivers seat.

  • Minimum Duration of Permit Holding: Permit holders must also hold their instruction permit for a minimum of six months before they are eligible to apply for a drivers license. This waiting period allows new drivers to gain experience and confidence behind the wheel under supervision before obtaining full driving privileges.

Drivers License Requirements for Minors

A drivers license is a little bit more involved than a permit and requires both a commitment from parents and a guardian. Here are the key requirements dictated by teenage driving laws in California:

  • Age Requirement: The applicant must be at least 16 years old.

  • Instruction Permit Holding Period: They must have held an instruction permit for a minimum of 6 months. As we mentioned, this period allows the applicant to gain practical driving experience under supervision.

  • Driver Education and Training: The applicant must provide proof of completion of a state-approved driver education and training program. This program typically includes classroom instruction as well as behind-the-wheel training with a certified instructor. The school or program should provide a certificate.

  • Supervised Practice Hours: The applicant must obtain signatures from a parent or guardian and the driving instructor verifying that they have completed at least 50 hours of supervised driving practice. This includes a minimum of 10 hours of night driving. 

  • Scheduling and Passing the Driving Test: The applicant must schedule and pass the driving test either online or by phone. The driving test assesses the applicant's ability to safely operate a vehicle and follow traffic laws.

  • Retest Procedures: If the applicant fails the driving test, they must wait at least 2 weeks before they can retest. Additionally, they must pay a retest fee for each subsequent attempt after the first failure. After three failed attempts, the applicant must reapply for the drivers license and pay all applicable fees again.

Drivers License Restrictions

Like the permit, there are also specific restrictions for minors when they first start driving in California. These restrictions help gradually introduce teens to the responsibilities of driving and make them more competent drivers. With a newly-issued drivers license, understand the following limits for minors:

  • Nighttime Driving Restriction: For the first 12 months after obtaining their drivers license, minors are prohibited from driving between the hours of 11:00 PM and 5:00 AM without adult supervision. Also keep in mind that there may be local laws with further driving hour restrictions for minors.

  • Passenger Restrictions: During the initial 12-month period, minors are also restricted from transporting passengers under the age of 20 unless accompanied by one of the following individuals:

    • A licensed parent or guardian.

    • A California driver who is at least 25 years old.

    • A certified driving instructor.

  • Cell Phone Use Restriction: It is illegal for drivers under 18 years old to use cellphones or other wireless devices while driving, except in emergencies or when driving on private property. This restriction aims to minimize distractions and promote safe driving practices among young drivers.

Exceptions to Restrictions

While there aren’t many, there are some exceptions for when minors can drive between restricted hours or transport an immediate family member unaccompanied. When reasonable transportation is not available and it’s necessary for a teenager to drive, the law allows them to drive with a signed note explaining why they must drive. These scenarios include:

  • Medical Necessity: If a minor has a medical need that requires them to drive, they must carry a signed note from their physician. The note should include a diagnosis, the probable date of recovery, and when the necessity for driving will end.

  • School or School-Authorized Activities: A minor may drive for school or school-authorized activities if they carry a signed note from their school principal, dean, or designee. The note should specify the reason for the activity and the probable date when the activity will end.

  • Employment Necessity: If a minor needs to drive for employment purposes, they must carry a signed note from their employer. The note should verify employment and include the probable date when the employment will end.

  • Immediate Need of Family Member: In cases of an immediate need involving a family member, a minor can drive if they carry a signed note from their parent or guardian. The note should state the reason for the necessity and the probable date when it will end.

  • Emancipated Minor: No documentation is needed for this exemption, but teens must declare themselves an emancipated minor and provide proof when applying for their instruction permit.

Penalties for Violating California Driving Laws for Minors

Remember that these rules are in place for a reason—the primary one being the safety of all drivers on the road. Teens and parents should consider these rules carefully to build good driving habits and better prepare young drivers.

Beyond the safety net these laws provide, it’s also illegal to violate such laws and can result in some serious penalties. Keep these consequences in mind for minors as they begin driving:

  • Accumulation of Points: If a minor driver accumulates 2 or more points on their driving record within a year, their license will be suspended for 30 days. If they accumulate 3 or more points annually, their license will be suspended for 6 months, and they will be placed on one-year probation.

  • Zero Tolerance for Underage Drinking and Driving: California operates under zero tolerance for underage drinking and driving. Any blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01% or higher detected in an underage drivers system will result in an automatic one-year license suspension.

  • Other Penalties: In addition to license suspension, minors who violate California driving laws may face other penalties. These may include fines, community service, mandatory attendance at driver improvement programs, and potentially even criminal charges, depending on the severity of the violation.

Start Driving Today with Aceable

Understanding California driving laws for minors is just as important for students learning the rules of the road. Parents can play a big role in setting boundaries and expectations for their new driver, too. Guardians who are aware of and follow these rules can help their teenager reliably begin their driving experience.

Parents can also better prepare their teenager by enrolling them in an engaging driving program for their drivers education. It’s great to have these conversations as a parent, and you want the rules reinforced by a good instructor, too. The best option out there? We recommend Aceable. 

Aceable offers online drivers education courses that students can take completely online. Instead of relying on a traditional classroom setting, teenagers can learn from anywhere and learn at their own pace.

Boring lectures are a thing of the past (or at least they should be.) Our courses are designed to be interactive and fun, keeping teenagers interested and motivated throughout their learning journey.

With the freedom of driving comes great responsibility. Aceable takes this responsibility seriously and helps teens take it seriously, too. Check out the available courses to become a competent, confident, and law-abiding driver.

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