Licensing & State Laws

Washington’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 instruction permit and intermediate stages are key steps.

Instruction Permit

When teens turn 15, they may apply for an instruction (learner’s) permit if they are enrolled in a driver’s education class. If they are not enrolled in a driver’s education class, they can get a permit when they are 15 1/2 or older and pass the knowledge test.To apply for an instruction permit, the teen needs to visit a driver licensing office and have proof of residence and identity, a cash or check to pay the $20 fee, and a completed Parental Authorization Affidavit (if the teen is under 18). Parents must provide proof of their identity and relationship to the teen. If enrolled in a driver’s education class, teens will also need the signed application from their driving school instructor and will be required to pass a vision screening, which includes color recognition.

With an instruction permit, teens may only practice driving with a licensed driver sitting in the front seat who has at least 5 years of driving experience. A teen with an instruction permit must practice driving for at least 50 hours (including 10 hours at night) with a supervising driver who is at least 21 years old and who has had a valid driver license for at least five years, before they are allowed to get an intermediate license.

Intermediate License

When teens turn 16, have passed a traffic safety education course and have had an instruction permit for at least 4 months (if younger than 16, they must be within 60 days of their 16th birthday), they can go to their local driver licensing office to take the driving test. They cannot have had any traffic violations within 6 months of applying for the license, nor can they have been convicted of any alcohol or drug offense while having held an instruction permit. They’ll also need to present a signed certificate showing they have passed an approved traffic safety education course; have a parent or guardian grant permission and confirm the teen’s driving practice by signing a Parental Authorization Affidavit at the licensing office; pass a knowledge test, driving test and vision screening; provide proof of Washington State residency; present proof of identity; and provide their social security number or sign a declaration if they do not have one.

In any case, an intermediate license will not actually be issued by the Department of Licensing until the teen turns 16 and has held an Instruction Permit for 6 months.

Teens with intermediate licenses may drive by themselves, but must follow some special rules and restrictions designed to help keep him/her safe and develop and improve his/her driving skills. For the first 12 months, intermediate license holders may not drive between 1 and 5 a.m. unless supervised by a licensed driver age 25 or older. There is a limited exemption for teens driving for agricultural purposes. Also, for the first 6 months, teens may not drive with a passenger under age 20 (immediate family members are exempt). For the second 6 months, the teen may not carry more than three non-family passengers under age 20. Both night and passenger limits expire after one year of driving without a collision or traffic citation. Teens under age 18 may not use any wireless device – even one that is “hands-free” – while they are driving.

Full License

At age 18, an intermediate license automatically becomes a regular license.

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 Washington State Department of Licensing is in charge of licensing for all drivers in Washington. The DOL 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.