Licensing & State Laws
To get your driver’s license in Tennessee, you’ll move through multliple licensing stages. As you progress, you’ll also need your parents’ permission at each step.
When you turn 15, you may apply for a learner’s permit. You and a parent or guardian need to visit your local driver exam office and bring a state-certified copy of your birth certificate, Social Security number, proof of Tennessee residency, Minor/Teenage Affidavit and Cancellation form, and Proof of School Attendance form. Once you pass the written driver’s knowledge test and a vision test, you’ll be given your learner’s permit. A legal guardian must accompany you to the driver license station to sign the application form, or their signature must be notarized on the form.
A learner’s permit lets you drive only with a licensed driver age 21 or older supervising and sitting in the front seat. The learner’s permit lets you practice driving with an experienced adult driver. Driver and passenger must wear seat belts. Once you have practiced driving for at least 180 days with a parent or legal guardian, you are allowed to get an intermediate license.
Intermediate Restricted License
When you turn 16 and have had your learner’s permit for at least 180 days, you can go to your local DMV to take the driving test. You’ll also need to take a second vision test and provide proof that you completed 50 hours of practice driving time. (Keep track of your practice driving.) Once you do that, you can receive your intermediate license. Make sure a parent comes with you to sign the application form or get your parent’s notarized signature on the form ahead of time.
When you have an intermediate license, you’re allowed to drive without a parent, but you must follow certain rules to help keep you safe. Tennessee does not allow teens with intermediate licenses to drive between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless accompanied by a licensed driver at least age 21. You and all of your passengers must wear safety belts while you’re driving and children age eight or younger and less than 4’9” must be in the appropriate child restraint system.
Intermediate Unrestricted License
At age 17 you are eligible for an intermediate unrestricted license if you have held the intermediate license for one year. The state does not place night or passenger limits on those with unrestricted licenses but you should follow AAA safety recommendations and the rules set by your parents.
At age 18, or on graduation from high school or receiving a GED, whichever is sooner, teens may receive a full unrestricted license. The license will still contain “Under 21” age indicators.
At any point in the Graduated Driver License process, cell phone use is prohibited and violations or crashes can send the teen back to a Learner’s Permit until 18 years of age.
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 the laws in your state.
For more information on the licensing process, visit the Tennessee Department of Safety.
- Conducts the written exam and road test for your learner’s License and intermediate license.
- Provides study materials to help you get ready for the exams.
- 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.
Your parents will do most of the rule setting and enforcement as you learn to drive. But state and local police are involved, too.
Police enforce traffic laws and investigate crashes. By enforcing traffic laws and requirements on seat belt use, distracted driving, drinking and driving, and teen licensing laws, police keep everyone on the road safer. Breaking the law can lead to fines, license suspension and other penalties.
- If pulled over by the police, expect to present your driver’s license, the 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.
- Use a parent-teen driving agreement.
- Keep your parents in the know about who you ride with.
- Let your parents know when and where you’re headed.
- 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.