Licensing Process

South Dakota 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.

Instruction Permit

At age 14, teens can apply for an instruction permit in the state of South Dakota. 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, proof of Social Security number and two documents to prove residential address (parent proof of address is sufficient for a minor).

Teens must pass a written driver’s knowledge test and a vision test to receive an instruction permit.

With an instruction permit, teens may only drive with a supervising driver seated in the front seat. Between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., teens are allowed to drive with a licensed driver who is age 18 or older and has at least one year’s driving experience. Between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. the permit holder must be accompanied by a parent/legal guardian.

Restricted Minor’s Permit

At age 14 and 90 days, teens who have satisfactorily completed a state-approved driver education program may apply for a restricted minor’s permit. Teens must have passed the vision, knowledge and driving tests, complete the requirements of the instruction permit (to include showing birth certificate, proof of Social Security number and address), and have not been convicted of a traffic violation during the previous six months. The teen must have held an instruction permit for at least 90 days. If a teen has not completed a state-approved driver education course, this holding period is extended to 180 days and the minimum age becomes 14 and 180 days.

A teen with a restricted minor’s permit may drive unsupervised between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. with the permission of the minor’s parent or guardian. Between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., the teen’s parent or legal guardian must occupy a seat beside the driver. At age 18, the teen’s permit converts to a full operator’s license.

Operator’s LICENSE

At age 16, a teen may obtain a full operator’s license with full driving privileges and no restrictions. If the teen already has a restricted minor’s permit and has had no traffic convictions in the prior six months, this can be completed by mail.

If the teen has an instruction permit or has not yet begun the process, the teen must complete the requirements of the instruction permit—pass the vision and knowledge tests and complete the mandatory “holding period.” After six months without a traffic conviction, the teen may then pass the driving test and receive a full operator’s license.


The South Dakota Department of Public Safety (SD DPS), through its Driver Licensing Program, is in charge of licensing for all drivers in South Dakota. The SD DPS 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.

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.