Licensing & State Laws

California’s multi-stage licensing process allows teens to gradually gain exposure to complex driving situations, easing them into driving over an extended period of time. The provisional permit and provisional stages are key steps.

Provisional Permit

At age 15 1/2, teens can apply for a provisional permit in the state of California. To do so, both teen and parent must visit their local driver exam office with a state-certified copy of the teen’s birth certificate. Teens must pass the traffic law, road-sign and vision tests to receive a provisional permit. Teens must also provide proof they have completed or are enrolled in driver education.

With a provisional permit, teens may practice with a parent, guardian, spouse, driving instructor or an adult 25 years or older, who has a valid California driver’s license. Teens are required to practice driving for at least 50 hours, including 10 hours at night, with a parent or a legal guardian before they’re allowed a provisional license.

They must also complete both classroom driver education and formal behind-the-wheel training.

Provisional License

When teens turn 16, have had a provisional permit for at least six months, have completed 50 hours of practice, including 10 hours at night, and have completed classroom driver education and formal behind-the-wheel training, they can apply for a provisional license. Parents must certify in writing that these hours have been completed. They also must pass a behind-the-wheel driving test. Legal guardians must accompany their teens to the DMV to sign the application form, or their signature must be notarized on the form.

Teens with a provisional license are allowed to drive alone, but must follow certain restrictions. For the first 12 months (or until the age of 18), they may not drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. (Some exceptions are granted.) They also may not transport passengers under 20 unless accompanied by a licensed driver age 25 or older. Teen drivers and all passengers are required to wear seat belts. They must maintain a clean driving record. Drivers in California may never use a hand-held cell phone or text while driving, and drivers under 18 are prohibited from driving and using a cell phone, even when equipped with a hands-free device.

Full License

At age 18, teens are eligible for a full license, barring DMV or court-ordered restrictions, suspensions or probation. The state does not place night or passenger limits on those with full licenses. However, AAA encourages parents to maintain their own rules.

A parent-teen driving agreement can help you enforce licensing rules that the state and your family set. An agreement helps you and your teen understand the rules of the road and sends a clear message that driving is an earned privilege that your family takes seriously.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles is in charge of licensing for all drivers in California. The DMV:

  • Conducts the written exam and road test needed to get a driver’s license.
  • Provides study materials to help your teen get ready for the exams.

Keeps track of license status and can suspend a license. During the provisional phase, one citation or at-fault crash within 12 months results in a warning from DMV. Two or more results in license restrictions and suspensions.

Remind your teen that police can and will enforce all requirements on seat belt use, drinking and driving, and other laws. Breaking the law can lead to fines, license suspension and other penalties.

  • If stopped by the police, teens should present a valid license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance.
  • Whether stopped as a driver or passenger, teens should always cooperate and be respectful with law enforcement.
  • If in any kind of situation involving law enforcement, teens should talk to their parents about it, because this can create a learning experience.

 If your teen gets a ticket or is involved in a crash, it could lead to a court appearance. Judges deal seriously and directly with teen traffic violations. They can assess fines and suspend driving privileges for traffic offenses – even for a first offense, depending on the type of violation.

The consequences of a drinking and driving offense are particularly severe for drivers under age 21. AAA encourages you to know the serious consequences of DUI offenses by knowing the law. This information is subject to periodic legislative updates.

  • California has a “zero tolerance law” that says it’s illegal for drivers under 21 to have any measurable alcohol in their blood. Teens violating this law will have their driving license suspended by the DMV for at least one year.
  • Drivers under age 21 who reach or exceed a .05% blood alcohol content (BAC) will be punished by the courts. Teen that violate this law can be jailed, fined and have additional actions taken against them and their license. The illegal BAC doesn’t rise to .08% until your teen turns 21.
  • A first offense drinking and driving arrest can result in:
    • More than $22,500 in fines, fees, penalties.
    • 48 hours jail time
    • 3 years probation
    • 2 points on driving record
    • Must install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) on all vehicles you own or operate in Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare counties. It is at the discretion of the court in all other counties.
    • Loss of “good driver” status for 10 years and two points on driving record
    • Auto insurance policy could be cancelled or subjected to increased rates
    • 5-week DUI class* and two DUI Impact classes
    • Additional medical and car repair bills if in a collision, potential felony drunk driving charges if someone is injured or killed, possible job loss and the total of your vehicle