Licensing & State Laws

Tennessee’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 learner’s permit and intermediate stages are key steps.

Learner’s Permit

At age 15, teens can apply for a learner’s permit in the state of Tennessee. 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, Social Security number, proof of Tennessee residency, Minor/Teenage Affidavit and Cancellation form and Proof of School Attendance form. Teens must pass a written driver’s knowledge test and a vision test to receive a learner’s permit. Legal guardians must accompany their teens to the driver license station to sign the application form, or their signatures must be notarized on the form.

With a learner’s permit, teens may only drive with a licensed driver age 21 or older supervising and sitting in the front seat. Driver and passengers must wear seat belts. Teens are required to complete 50 hours of practice driving and have a learner’s permit for at least 180 days before they’re allowed an intermediate license.

Intermediate Restricted License

When teens turn 16, have had a learner’s permit for at least 180 days and have completed 50 hours of practice driving, they can apply for this intermediate license. They also must pass a behind-the-wheel driving test, complete a vision test and provide proof of practice driving time. Legal guardians must accompany their teens to the driver license station to sign the application form, or their signature must be notarized on the form.

Teens with an intermediate license are allowed to drive alone, but must follow certain restrictions. They may not drive between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. (Some exceptions are granted.) They are also prohibited from driving with more than one passenger, unless accompanied by a licensed driver who is at least 21 years old. Teen drivers and all passengers are required to wear safety belts.

Intermediate Unrestricted License

At age 17, teens are eligible for an intermediate unrestricted license if they have held an intermediate restricted license for one year. The state does not place night or passenger limits on those with unrestricted licenses. However, AAA encourages parents to maintain their own rules.

Full License

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 all points in the Graduated Driver License process, cell phone use while driving is prohibited. Violations or crashes can cause drivers under age 18 to be sent back to a learner’s permit.

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 Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, through its Driver Services Program, is in charge of licensing for all drivers in Tennessee. The TDOSHS 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.