Licensing Process

To get your driver’s license in Washington, you’ll move through three licensing stages. As you progress, you’ll also need your parents’ permission at each step.

Instruction permit

When you turn 15, you may apply for an instruction (learner’s) permit if you are enrolled in a driver’s education class. If you are not enrolled in a driver’s education class, you can get a permit when you are 15½ or older if you pass the knowledge test. To apply for an instruction permit, visit a driver licensing office and bring with you proof of residence and identity, a cash or check to pay the $20 fee, and a completed Parental Authorization Affidavit (if you are under 18). Your parents must provide proof of their identity and relationship to you. If you are enrolled in a driver’s education class, you will also need the signed application from your driving school instructor. You must pass a vision screening, which includes color recognition.

An instruction permit lets you practice driving, but only with a licensed driver sitting in the front seat who has at least 5 years of driving experience. Once you have practiced driving for at least 50 hours (including 10 hours at night) with a supervising driver who is at least 21 years old and has had a valid driver license for at least five years, you are allowed to get an intermediate license.

Intermediate License

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

When you have an intermediate license, you must follow some special rules and restrictions designed to help keep you safe and develop and improve your driving skills.  For the first 6 months, you cannot drive with passengers under the age of 20 unless they are members of your immediate family. For the next 6 months, you cannot carry more than 3 passengers who are under 20 years old who are not members of your immediate family. For the first 12 months of licensure, you cannot drive between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. unless you are with a licensed driver age 25 or older. The only exception to this rule is if you drive for agricultural purposes, meaning you transport farm products or supplies under the direction of a farmer.  You cannot use any wireless communications device – even one with a headset – while you’re driving.

Full License

After 1 year of following these rules and driving without a collision or traffic citation, you may drive without limitations to the time of day or passengers you can carry. When you turn 18, these special rules no longer apply and your intermediate driver license automatically becomes a regular license.

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.

Licensing Authority

The Washington State Department of Licensing is in charge of licensing for all drivers in the state. The department:

  • 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.
  • Parent-Teen Driving Agreement – Signing a formal agreement with your parents helps in multiple ways.
  • Driver-ZED – Offered by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Driver-ZED is a computer-based program to help you practice driving on your PC.