Licensing & State Laws

Are you legally allowed to drive without supervision now? Learn more about South Carolina’s three-stage licensing process.

Beginner’s Permit

When you turn 15, you may apply for a beginner’s permit. You and a parent or guardian need to visit your local Department of Motor Vehicle’s licensing office and bring your birth certificate, Social Security card, proof of residency, and insurance information. Once you pass the written driver’s knowledge test (AAA can help you prepare for this) and a vision test, you’ll be given your beginner’s permit.

A beginner’s permit lets you drive from 6 a.m. to midnight with a licensed driver who is at least 21 years old, has at least one year of driving experience and rides in the front seat. You may drive from midnight to 6 a.m. only if a licensed parent or guardian accompanies you in the front seat.

Conditional Driver’s License

If you are at least 15 and have held a beginner’s permit for at least 180 days, you may apply for a conditional driver’s license. To get a conditional license, you must have held a beginner’s permit for at least 180 days and have practiced driving for at least 40 hours, including 10 hours during darkness. Your parent or legal guardian must sign the application, and you must show proof of having completed a driver education course and of satisfactory school attendance. You will need to pass the driving test at a DMV office.

With a conditional license, you may drive alone during daylight hours – from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. (until 8 p.m. during Daylight Savings Time). You may drive in the evening (until midnight) with a licensed adult who is at least age 21, but may only drive after midnight with a parent or guardian. You are restricted to no more than two passengers under age 21, unless accompanied by a licensed driver age 21 or older. The only exceptions to the passenger limit are for family members and for transporting students to and from school.

Special Restricted Driver’s License

When you turn 16 and have had a beginner’s permit for at least 180 days, you are eligible for a special restricted driver’s license. The requirements for this stage of license are the same as for a conditional license.

A special restricted driver’s license carries the same restrictions on driving alone as the conditional license, with one exception. You can get a waiver from the night limits from DMV to allow travel between home, school, vocational training or employment opportunities. You will have to submit two separate statements from a parent or legal guardian and a statement on letterhead from the teen’s employer or school official.

You can obtain full driving privileges at age 17 if you have had a special restricted driver’s license for one year and have had no traffic offenses or been involved in any at-fault accidents. If you are younger than 17 and accrue six or more points on the driving record before having held the license for one year, the license will be suspended for six months.

Full License

If you are at least 17 and have had a beginner’s permit for at least 180 days, you may get a regular driver’s license. A parent or guardian will have to sign the application. If you are over age 18 you do not need a parent or guardian signature. You will need to bring the permit and must pass the vision and road skills tests.

Now is a good time to set up a parent-teen driving agreement to help you and your parents establish expectations related to both their rules and those of the state.

For more information, contact the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles.

Police enforce life-saving traffic laws related to seat belt use, drinking and driving, teen licensure and speeding, among others. If you violate those laws, you will be punished. Breaking the law can lead to fines, license suspension and other penalties.

  • Expect to present your driver’s license, the 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.

  • Fines
  • Suspended driving privileges
  • Driver’s license points
  • Attorney’s fees
  • Court costs
  • Insurance rate increases

The South Carolina Department of Public Safety, through its Department of Motor Vehicles, is in charge of licensing for all drivers in South Carolina. SCDMV keeps track of your license status and can suspend your license if you get too many tickets, don’t keep insurance on your car or commit other violations.