Licensing & State Laws
Are you legally allowed to drive without supervision now? Learn more about California’s multi-stage licensing process.
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.
- Keep track of your practice driving with the AAA Driving Log.
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, a provisional license becomes a full license barring DMV or court-ordered restrictions, suspensions or probation.
For more information, contact the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Police enforce life-saving traffic laws related to seat belt use, drinking and driving, teen driver’s licenses and speeding, among others. If you violate these laws, you will be punished. Breaking the law can lead to fines, license suspension and other penalties.
- Expect to present your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance.
- Always cooperate and be respectful with law enforcement, whether you’re the driver or a passenger.
- Talk to your parent about what happened.
If you get a ticket or are in a crash, it could lead to a court appearance and many unpleasant consequences:
- Suspended driving privileges
- Driver’s license points
- Attorney’s fees
- Court costs
- Insurance rate increases
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. If you violate this law, you will have your 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. If you violate this law, you can be jailed, fined and have additional actions taken against you and your license. The illegal BAC doesn’t rise to .08% until you turn 21.
- A first offense drinking and driving arrest can cost over $22,500 in fines, fees and 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
The California Department of Motor Vehicles is in charge of licensing for all drivers in the state. The DMV keeps track of your license status and can suspend your license if you get too many tickets, don’t maintain insurance on your car or commit other violations
- StartSmart: Practice Driving – AAA’s tips for parents and teens about practice driving.
- StartSmart: Always Use Seat Belts – 63 percent of 16- to 20-year-olds who die in car crashes aren’t buckled up.
- StartSmart: Distractions and Driving – Read about the most common distractions, and get helpful advice for teens and parents.
- Parent-Teen Driving Agreement – Signing a formal agreement with your parent helps in multiple ways.
- Driver-ZED – Offered by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Driver-ZED is a computer-based program to help you practice driving.