Licensing & State Laws
California uses a multi-stage licensing process for teens. This system allows teens to gradually gain exposure to complex driving situations, easing them into driving over an extended period of time.
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, provide your social security number and proof of residence. Teens must pass the traffic law, road-sign and vision tests to receive a provisional permit. Teens must also provide proof they have completed driver education or are enrolled in an integrated driver education program.
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. After completing an hour lesson with a licensed instructor, teens are required to practice driving for at least 50 hours, including 10 hours at night, with an adult 25 years or older, who has a valid California driver’s license before they’re allowed a provisional license.
- Download the AAA Driving Log to help document these hours.
Teens must also complete driver education and at least 6 hours of behind the wheel professional instruction.
When teens turn 16, have held a provisional permit for at least six months, have completed 50 hours of practice, including 10 hours at night, and have completed driver education and formal behind-the-wheel training, they can apply for a provisional license. Parents must sign the permit under perjury that 50 hours or driving practice has 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 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.
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.
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.
Consider using a parent-teen driving agreement to help 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.