Licensing & State Laws

North Carolina’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 limited learner’s permit and limited provisional license are key steps.

Limited Learner’s Permit

At age 15, teens may apply for a limited learner’s permit. Teens must have completed an approved driver education course that meets North Carolina requirements and can present a Driving Eligibility Certificate. You and your teen need to visit your local Department of Motor Vehicle’s licensing office and your teen will need to bring two forms of identification. At least one must reflect your teen’s full name, including his or her middle name. AAA recommends you bring a state-certified copy of your teen’s birth certificate. Once your teen passes the written driver’s knowledge test and a vision test, your teen will be given a limited learner’s permit.

A limited learner’s permit lets your teen drive from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. with a supervising licensed driver seated beside the teen driver. A supervising licensed driver shall be a parent, grandparent, or guardian of the permit holder or a responsible adult approved by the parent or guardian. A supervising driver shall have been licensed to drive for at least 5 years. After six months with your teen’s limited learner’s permit, your teen is permitted to drive at any time with a supervised licensed driver. Once your teen has practiced driving for at least 12 months with a supervised driver and has had no convictions for motor vehicle violations or seat belt/mobile telephone infraction in the preceding 6 months, your teen is then allowed to get a limited provisional license.

Limited Provisional License

When your teen turns 16 and has had his or her limited learner’s permit for at least 12 months, your teen can go to the local DMV to take the driving test.   Once your teen does that, he or she can receive a limited provisional license. Make sure you come with your teen to sign the application form or provide your teen with a notarized signature on the form ahead of time.

A teen with a limited provisional license may drive without a parent, but must follow certain rules to stay safe. North Carolina does not allow teens with limited provisional licenses to drive between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.— some of the riskiest driving hours for all drivers and especially teens. Exceptions are granted for travel to and from work, or any volunteer fire, rescue or EMS (emergency medical service) service. Provisional license holders may not drive with more than one passenger under the age of 21. These restrictions, however, do not apply if the teen is driving with immediate family or members of the same household. If the supervising driver is in the car seated next to the teen, these restrictions do not apply. Teens and all of their passengers must wear seat belts while driving. Teens must keep this license for at least 6 months and have had no convictions of motor vehicle violations for seat belt/mobile telephone infractions in the preceding six months.

Full License

Your teen will get a full provisional license after completing both the limited learner’s permit and limited provisional license levels. At this stage your teen is allowed to drive unsupervised. Without driver education, your teen cannot get an unrestricted license until age 18.

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 North Carolina Department of Transportation, through its Division of Motor Vehicles is in charge of licensing for all drivers in North Carolina. The NCDOT conducts the written exam and road test needed to get a driver’s license. It also provides study materials to help your teen get ready for the exams. 

State and local police enforce traffic laws and investigate crashes. 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. Talk to your teen about these and other consequences, and explain what to do if stopped by police.

  • If stopped by the police, teens should expect to present a valid license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance.
  • If 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.