Licensing & State Laws

To get your driver’s license in California, you’ll move through three licensing stages. As you progress, you’ll also need your parents’ permission at each step.

Provisional Permit

When you turn 15 1/2, you may apply for a provisional permit in the state of California. You and a parent or guardian need to visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles office and bring a state-certified copy of your birth certificate and provide your social security number. Once you pass the traffic law, road sign and vision tests, you’ll be given your provisional permit. You must also provide proof that you have completed driver education, or are enrolled in an integrated driver training and education program.

With a provisional permit, you may practice with a parent, guardian, spouse, driving instructor or an adult 25 years of age or older. These drivers must have a valid California driver’s license. You must complete both classroom driver education and at least six hours of behind-the-wheel professional instruction. You must also complete 50 hours of supervised driving practice, including 10 hours at night. Your parent or guardian must certify in writing that these hours have been completed.

Provisional License

When you turn 16, have had your provisional permit for at least six months and have completed the provisional permit stage, you can apply for a provisional driver license. You must pass a behind-the wheel driving test and provide proof of practice driving time. Legal guardians must accompany you to the DMV and sign the application form, or their signature must be notarized on the form.

When you have a provisional license, you’re allowed to drive without a parent, but you must follow certain restrictions to help keep you safe. For the first 12 months (or until you turn 18) California does not allow you to drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. — some of the riskiest driving hours for all drivers and especially teens. Exceptions are permitted for certain circumstances. For the first 12 months (or until you turn 18) California teens cannot transport passengers under age 20, unless a licensed driver 25 or older is present. Teen drivers and all passengers are required to wear seat belts. You must maintain a clean driving record. Drivers in California may never use a hand-held phone or text while driving, and drivers under 18 are prohibited from driving and using a wireless phone even when equipped with a hands-free device.

Full License

At age 18, a provisional license becomes a full license barring DMV or court-ordered restrictions, suspensions or probation.

Now is a good time to set up a parent-teen driving agreement.

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

  • Conducts the written exam and road test for your provisional permit and provisional license.
  • Provides study materials to help you get ready for the exams.
  • Keeps track of your license status and can suspend your license. One citation or at-fault crash with 12 months results in a DMV warning. Two or more results in license restrictions and suspensions.

Your parents will set rules as you learn to drive. But state and local police are involved, too, enforcing traffic laws and investigating crashes. By enforcing laws and requirements on seat belt use, distracted driving, drinking and driving, and teen license restrictions, police keep everyone on the road safer. Breaking laws can lead to fines, license suspension and other penalties.

  • If pulled over by the police, present your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance.
  • If stopped as a driver or passenger, always cooperate and be respectful with law enforcement.
  • If in any kind of situation involving law enforcement, talk to your parents about it immediately afterward.

If you get a ticket or are involved in a crash, you may need to appear in court, whether you believe you were at fault or not. This is serious stuff: Judges often assess fines and suspend driving privileges for traffic offenses – even a first offense.

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.

Police and courts are there when things go wrong. You and your parents can help keep things right.

  • Use a parent-teen driving agreement from AAA.
  • Keep your parents in the know about whom you ride with.
  • Let your parents know when and where you’re headed.