Advice on Learning to Drive
Learning to drive is a privilege that many teens look forward to and anticipate. In California, teens can apply for their permit when they are 15 1/2 years old. The laws in other states and countries are different, so check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) before you start this process. In California, if you are under the age of 18, the process is as described below.
All teens between the ages of 15 1/2 and 18 apply for what is called a provisional permit. Before going to the Department of Motor Vehicles, you must complete driver education. This can be done either in the classroom or online homestudy.
If you have chosen to take drivers education in a classroom, you must be in the classroom for a minimum of 25 hours, not including breaks. Every community has driver education programs. One program in the San Francisco Bay Area is the Stanford Driving School.
If you have chosen to take drivers education online, you must register on a certified Web site that has multiple lessons, and a final test. Check that the course you are completing is accepted by the DMV in your state. This will be indicated on the Web site.
Many Web sites let you access a trial version before purchasing the entire course. Check to see that the content is understandable and easily accessible before purchasing. Be sure to see if there is a time limit for completion, as well as a help phone number or way to contact the site in case you need assistance.
On most websites, you must achieve a passing score – usually above 75 percent – on each mini-lesson and on the final test. If you pass the written test, the organization will send a certificate of completion to your home.
If you have chosen to take drivers education as a home study, you are mailed the information and tests. In addition, you must bring your certificate of completion, called form DL 387 or OL 237, to the DMV when applying for your permit.
The following are several websites that offer driver education:
- Drivers Ed: On this website, you can enroll for a free trial to "test drive" the program. The course allows you to complete the full driver's education and prepare you to take your permit test. The course costs $99, and you get 50 free practice tests.
- Teen Driving Course: The driver education program on this Web site costs $55 and includes eight chapters, each containing a test. Once you pass all eight sections, you receive a certificate to take to the DMV.
- Teen Drivers Education: This online course contains 19 chapters, each with a test at the end that you must pass with 75 percent of correct questions. There is a 50-question final test you must pass. The cost is $69.95.
- 911 Driving School: 911 Driving School hires only police officers to instruct classes. The officers knowledge and expertise will prepare the student for the great responsibility that comes with obtaining a driver's license.
Back to top
The Department of Motor Vehicles
Before going to the DMV, it is best to schedule an appointment because waiting in line to take the test can be very busy, and you must be prepared to wait for several hours.
Even if you have an appointment, be prepared to wait for quite a while before your number is called.
- At the DMV, you will need to present certain verifications in order for you to take your test. The things you need to bring to the DMV to take the permit are:
- Certificate of completion of driver education
- Verification that you are enrolled in driver training
- The certificate of completion of drivers education and enrollment in drivers training can be proved with Form DL 392 or OL 392. You can also present one of the following forms, which shows that you have completed driver education and driver training: DL 387, DL 388, DL 388A, OL 237, or OL 238.
- The third option is proof of enrollment in a combined driver education and driver training program with form DL 400.
- A completed original DL 44 application form (no photocopies, faxes, etc.). Both legal guardians must sign the form, so make sure this is done before you go to the DMV.
- Verify your date of birth and legal presence with either your birth certificate or another accepted verifying document.
- Certificate of completion of driver education
- Once you present all of your verifications documents, you will be asked to give your Social Security number and full name, pass a vision test in which you are asked to read a few lines of letters, and pay the fee of to apply. You will also have to give your thumbprint and have your photo taken.
- Finally, you will take a written, 46-question test on traffic laws and signs. Your driver education course should prepare you for this, and the DMV issues booklets each year that contain all of the information on the test. To pass, you must get a minimum of 39 questions correct. If you do not pass, you can take the test again in one week.
Note: Keep in mind that over 70 percent of test-takers fail the first time around. Make sure you pay attention during driver education, and look through the Drivers Handbook (you can order one or get it from driving school before taking the test).
- After you complete the test, you will wait in line for it to be graded. You are given three chances to pass the written test. Once you pass the test, you are issued a driver's permit.
Back to top
Once you get your driver's permit, it does not mean you can drive alone. With a permit, you are allowed to drive with a licensed California driver over the age of 18, and they must have the ability, if necessary, to take control of the wheel.
You also need to schedule your in-car driving lessons through the driver training program you signed up for before getting your permit. There are different types of behind-the-wheel training to prepare you for your DMV license test, which you can take as soon as six months after receiving your permit.
One common option is three two-hour lessons on city streets. You can schedule these lessons whenever is convenient for you. There are also freeway driving lessons that include both basic driving techniques with a special focus on freeway driving. These programs are expensive and cost a few hundred dollars.
Back to top
To receive your driver's license, you must be at least 16 years old and have had your driver's permit for a minimum of six months (in California). You also must have completed 50 hours of behind-the-wheel practice with a licensed adult driver. You should write down the hours you spend driving to keep track. Be honest; the practice is important.
Schedule a driving test appointment with the DMV. Before taking the test, you will need to show proof of car insurance for your vehicle. You have three chances to pass the driving test. If you do not pass the first time, there is no specified waiting period, but you must reschedule. Remember: appointments are often not available for a few weeks. There is a $5 fee to retake the driving test.
If you pass, you will be issued an interim driver's license that is good for 60 days until your actual driver's license arrives in the mail. Teen drivers receive what is called a provisional driver's license for their first year as licensed drivers.
Under these conditions, you may not drive anyone under 20 years of age without being accompanied by a licensed California driver age 25 or older. You also cannot drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. without the same supervision. You cannot drive as a job if you are under the age of 18. There are some exceptions to these restrictions, but without a note, it is illegal.
After you turn 18, your driver's license is no longer provisional, so these restrictions no longer apply. The restrictions end one year from the date on the bottom of your license, closest to your photo.
Learning to drive is an event that many teens anticipate. Just remember that driving is a privilege that you earn. Respect your responsibility and drive safely!
Back to top
Written By: Julia Ransohoff,
high school student writer
Updated By: Crisca Papatheodorou,
high school writer
Reviewed By: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: October 2013
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
California Department of Motor Vehicles.
I Just Got My License – Now What?, TeensHealth.org.
Keys 2 Drive: The AAA Guide to Teen Driver Safety, AAA.
Teen Drivers Education
For More Information:
See our Drunk Driving article.
See our Driving Risks article.
See our Car Safety article.