California Learner’s Permit: A First-Time Teen Driver Guide

California Learner's Permit

Teens excited to get behind the wheel in the state of California will find their start with a learner’s permit. Before long they’ll get a provisional license giving more freedom. Then, finally transition to a full driver’s license with unrestricted access to the roads.

A learner’s permit gives teens real experience before fully licensed. Below, you’ll find what’s needed to get a California learner’s permit.

Get a California Learner’s Permit

California uses a graduated driver licensing program betting at 15 ½ years old. A teen can apply for a provisional license a year after showing responsibility and experience with their learner’s. Complete the following to begin the steps of getting a permit:

  • Be at least 15 ½ years old
  • Provide a Certificate of Completion of Driver Education or Driver Training (DL 400C)
  • Parent signature(s) on the application form
  • Show proof of ID (social security number and birth certificate)
  • Show proof of residency (utility bill, registration, pay stub, insurance)

Note: Those teens between the ages of 14 – 18 undergoing hardship may apply for a Junior Permit with the Form DL 120 (Application for Junior Permit).

About the Driver Education or Driving Training Certificate

California teens must show they’ve taken and passed a state-approved driver education course. This 25-hour course educates the rules of the road and safe driving. Courses are available at accredited locations or through online providers.

What to Expect at the DMV

The first time going to a DMV is a mix of excitement and nervousness – almost there! There are still a few more steps before teens get their learner’s permit.

Bring all the following:

  • DL 400C driver education certificate
  • Proof of ID (birth certificate and social security number)
  • Proof of residency

At the DMV, teens will need to:

  1. Fill-out the Driver License or Identification Card Application
  2. Pay the DMV application fee for the permit
  3. Pass the written test
  4. Take a vision test
  5. Get a picture and thumbprint taken
  6. Receive the learner’s permit

A parent (possibly both) or guardian will sign the application.

The teen will take a:

  1. Written Test. A 46-question test covering CA DMV traffic laws and safety. A minimum of 38 correct answers is required to pass the test. Teens may opt to use practice tests before visiting to improve their knowledge and passing chance.
  2. Vision Test. A basic vision test is done on-site. Those wearing corrective lenses should bring and wear them during the test.

A $35 application fee is paid (cash, check, card, money order) at time of application. Teens may retake the written test up to 3-times, with a 7-day waiting period between retakes. If everything goes well the teen will receive their permit and begin driving (with adult supervision, of course).

Getting Behind-the-Wheel Experience

Teens will hold their California permit for 1-year before graduating to their provision (teen) license). During that time, the driver must complete 50 hours of behind-the-wheel experience.

  • A licensed driver (25yo+) must always accompany the teen driver
  • 40-hours of daytime driving, 10-hours of nighttime driving

The teen will also need 6 extra hours of driver training with a professional sometime between their learner’s permit and licensing.

Getting Your Provisional Driver’s License

A first-time driver can move on to obtaining their provisional driver’s license after 1-year. This assumes they’ve practiced driving and shown personal responsibility. A road test is taken at a DMV office, so practice as much-as-possible until this time!

For the next step in getting a license? Click to go to our California Teen License Guide.