How to Get Your Driver's License in California

Need a California driver license but you’re still a minor? We’re here to help you figure it out every step of the way. Aceable is an online drivers ed provider with courses that have helped thousands of Californians learn to drive.

Our goal is to make it easy for teens to find all the answers they need about getting a drivers license in California. So we created this step-by-step guide to get you on the road to becoming a licensed California driver and avoid roadblocks along the way. Let’s get started!

Age Limits for Legally Driving in California

We’ll begin with the age requirements for driving, because if you aren’t of age you can’t get behind the wheel at all.

We associate learning how to drive with our 16th birthday, but in California you can start drivers education at 15 years and 6 months old. But there’s a small catch. Before age 16 you can only hold a learners permit, meaning a parent or legal guardian has to be in the car while you’re driving. Once you turn 16 you may be eligible for a provisional California driver license if you’ve met all of the drivers ed requirements.

If you’re already 16 years old you might be thinking, "Can I skip this whole permit part?" The short answer is, no. Everyone between the ages of 15.5-17.5 must take a state-approved California drivers ed course and hold a learners permit before they can obtain a drivers license. If you’re 18 or older drivers ed isn’t required, but it’s highly recommended.

How Do I Get a California Learners Permit as a Teen Driver?

If you’re within the driving age limit there are a few steps you have to take before you’ll be issued a California learners permit, also known as a provisional instruction permit.

Drivers Education

All minors are required to take a 30-hour drivers ed course before getting a permit. Once you complete the course you’ll receive a certificate of completion that’s needed to move on to the next step.

Instruction Permit Knowledge Test

To get your learner permit, you’ll need to make an appointment at the California DMV office to take a written knowledge test. With a little preparation most people pass, but even if you don’t you’ll have a chance to retake the knowledge test two more times.

Not sure whether you’ll pass the written test? Aceable has your back with unlimited free CA DMV practice tests. After you take a practice exam or two, you'll be ready to ace the knowledge test.

What to Bring to the California DMV to Get a Learners Permit

You’re going to need a few documents when you go to the California DMV office along with a completed learners permit application that’s signed by your legal guardians. These documents simply serve as a form of identification that prove you are who you say you are. Here’s what to bring:

  1. An original or certified copy of your birth certificate. If you don’t have that, check out a list of other acceptable documents.
  2. Social Security card (or just remember your social security number).
  3. Certificate of completion from an approved drivers ed program.
  4. A California driver license application. Both of your parents or your legal guardian must sign it.
  5. Acceptable form of payment for the application fee.

What to Expect While Getting a California Learners Permit

  • Take a vision screening test.
  • Give your thumbprint.
  • Take the permit exam.
  • Get your picture taken for a permit after you pass.

But there’s one caveat. Your learners permit isn’t official and valid until a driving trainer signs it. That step comes next while you complete the other requirements for getting a California drivers license.

Getting a Provisional Drivers License in California as a Teen

Getting a California provisional instruction license is a big step forward, but it’s not the end of the road. There are several more requirements before you can step it up to a provisional drivers license with more freedom and fewer driving limitations.

Are you ready to apply for a California provisional drivers license? You’re ready if:

  • You’re at least 16 years old.
  • You’ve finished drivers ed.
  • You completed driver training.
  • Your parents logged your 50 hours of driving practice.
  • You’ve had a learners permit for at least six months.

If you’ve completed all the steps above it’s time to make another appointment to visit the local DMV office to take the driving test and prove you have what it takes to safely drive on your own. But before you strap in for the behind-the-wheel driving test, make sure you have the proper documents and paperwork on hand.

What to Bring the DMV for a Teen Drivers License in California

  1. Your instruction permit.
  2. Driving log with the second page signed by your parents, saying you’ve completed 50 hours of driving practice with them.
  3. Certificate proving you completed the drivers ed course from a driver training school.
  4. Proof of financial responsibility for insurance purposes. See list of acceptable documents here.

Once all the paperwork is out of the way you’ll take the behind-the-wheel driving test. If you pass the driving test, then congratulations you’re officially a licensed California driver! If you fail your driving test, it’s not a major roadblock. You can take the test again in two weeks, and you have three chances to pass.

After passing the driving test, the California Department of Motor Vehicles will issue you a temporary license that can be used immediately. You’ll get your official California drivers license in the mail within 90 days.

Ready to get behind the wheel? Start taking California drivers ed online today!

How Does California Drivers Ed Work?

California driver ed is a mandatory 30-hour course for anyone under 18 years old who is seeking a California driver license. But unlike your parents, you can take drivers ed online or at a brick-and-mortar school. It’s whichever you prefer.

Classroom vs Online Drivers Ed in California

There are several CA DMV approved providers for online drivers ed, including Aceable. After you sign up with an online provider, you’ll simply go through the course at your own pace and when you’re finished the provider will send you a certificate of completion to apply for a learners permit.

With a classroom course you’ll meet at a set time in-person. The course will take a certain number of days or weeks to complete based on the curriculum of the program. Some driving schools offer classroom teaching in addition to behind-the-wheel instruction, and classes typically meet once a week for several hours.

Benefits of Taking an Online Drivers Ed Course in California

  • The course is self-paced.
  • Convenient for people with busy schedules.
  • No need to arrange travel to and from class because you can take it anywhere.

Benefits of Taking a Classroom Drivers Ed Course in California

  • Take the 30-hour driver education course and six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction under one roof.
  • Structured classroom setting may work better for some students.

Behind-the-Wheel Training

When you’re finished in the classroom, you’ll get a certificate of completion to apply for a learner permit and then move on to the behind-the-wheel phase. You’ll need to take six hours of driver training with a professional instructor.

There’s one more thing. After you’ve attended the first two hours of behind-the-wheel training, you’re allowed to practice driving with a parent or licensed driver over age 25. You’ll need to log 50 hours of driving practice before you can get a California driver license, and 10 of those hours must be completed at night.

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