How to Get a Driver's License

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.

Read more on How to Get Your Learner’s Permit here.

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 for 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.

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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:

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!

Read more on the Best Online Drivers Education Courses here.

Car Talk's Top Picks for Best Online Drivers Ed Courses

4.9 of 5

Aceable is not only an excellent program in terms of content, it is incredibly user-friendly and engaging. Classes are available on any device, have accessible audio and video and manage to make the subject matter interesting and fun. The site itself is easy to use and intuitive.

4.8 of 5

Improv Traffic School is a great program geared towards keeping the student engaged in the materials. Classes are a mixture of text, audio and video and hold the attention of the user using comedy whenever possible. The site is user-friendly and engaging.

4.4 of 5

This solid program is less flashy than others in the industry, but is a good choice in terms of content. The site is easy to use and self explanatory. The program tracks your progress and helps you along with prompt questions throughout.

3.7 of 5

This program is filled with all the information you need to pass the tests. The site is a little slow and simple compared to others in the industry. This content is timed, and users are expected to get through the material at a set pace. An audio option is available for a price.

3.5 of 5

This program is the basic offering in terms of frills. IDriveSafely has all the information you need, and no extras or distractions. The user-experience is very basic, but the content is complete.


What do you need to get a driver’s license?

This depends on the state in which you live. In general, you’ll need a proof of identification, proof of residency in that state, and proof of citizenship. Click the appropriate link above to see what your state requires.

What class of license do I need?

This entirely depends on your circumstances. There are a few different classifications of licenses in the country. The most common classification is Class C, the general license for driving your car, day to day. If you’re planning on driving a motorcycle, you’ll need a Class M license. And if you are trying to make a career out of driving large vehicles, you’ll need a CDL, which is a Commercial Classification.

Can I drive alone with a learner’s permit?

No, you cannot. A learner’s permit is exactly that, a permit to learn from a seasoned, licensed driver. You can read more on How to Get Your Learner’s Permit here.

What do I do if my license expires?

Well, hopefully, you will have avoided this instance by renewing your license when that little notice comes in the mail, telling you to do so. However, if you let this slip, each state has different criteria for renewing your license. Read our full guide on How to Renew Your License by State here.

Editor's note and disclaimer: Car Talk is supported by our fans, readers and listeners. When you click on some of the links on our website, we may receive referral compensation. However, you should know that the recommendations we make are based on our independent editorial review and analyses.
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