Updated by CarTalk Staff: October 2, 2019
In the 50 United States and DC, teen driving license requirements are – pun intended – all over the map. In New Jersey, teen drivers have to wait until the age of 17 to get a license, which doesn’t become permanent for six months. In South Dakota, on the other hand, teen drivers can get a license as early as 14 and three months with a certificate from a driver’s ed program.
Depending upon your state’s driver’s license requirements, the steps required to obtain a driver’s license are typically similar.
We’ll cover each one of these steps:
Step 1: Obtain your Learner’s Permit
State-issued Learner’s Permits allow new drivers to practice driving, supervised by a licensed and insured adult over the age of 21.
Several states have graduated Learner’s Permits that allow drivers to practice driving without supervision. For example, in the states of Indiana, California, Iowa, Texas, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky, learner’s permit holders over the age of 17 can drive unsupervised during daylight hours to school or to work.
It’s important that you understand the restrictions imposed by the state on your Learner’s Permit. Be aware of any time restrictions that your Permit may have.
Most Learner’s Permits are good for 12 months, and allow you to take a driving test after six months provided you’ve followed the other requirements for licensure.
Step 2: Take a Driver's Education Class
Driver’s Education classes are typically split between classroom time, where you’ll study the basic driving laws in your state and best practices to stay safe on the road, and a number of hours behind the wheel with a driving instructor. If you need help choosing a course, see our recommendations of the best online driver's ed courses.
Step 3: Log a Number of Hours of Behind-the-Wheel Training
Depending on the state, in order to get a license at the minimum age, drivers must complete a minimum number of supervised practice hours with a professional driving instructor. You’re encouraged to practice with a parent or guardian, too, but some states don’t consider that practice time as counting toward your minimum number of hours.
Step 4: Take a Driving Test
Once you’ve passed your driver’s education class, logged your driving hours and obtained a certificate from driving school, you can then schedule a time to take your state’s driving test at the minimum age. Driving tests can either be administered by approved test proctors or State Police officers, depending on your state.
Does my state have unique requirements?
Probably. But you don't need to guess. Here is a list of the web pages of all fifty states' motor vehicle departments (or other state agencies) where you can find out how to get a driver's license:
How to get a first time driver's license or learner's permit in:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
- Washington DC
We realize that web links change from time to time. If you find one of the state website links to be broken, we'd appreciate you letting us know. Thank you!