How to Get Your Driver’s License: A Basic Overview and Guide

A driver’s license is a required and official document, issued by each individual state, that permits an individual to operate one or more particular types of motorized vehicles on public roadways, including motorcycles, cars, trucks, and buses.

A driver’s license serves as both proof of identity and as a permit to drive. To obtain a driver’s license, individuals must pass a written test and a driving test, and meet other state-specific requirements such as minimum age, residency, and vision standards.

Having a driver’s license is a privilege and can be suspended or revoked for certain violations of traffic laws.

How to Get a Driver’s License (Adults 18+)

Whether you are a new resident of your state, a first-time driver, or a non-citizen, obtaining a driver’s license is a simple process in most US states. While you may have heard of a learner’s permit because you are over the age of 18, most states will not require you to complete this step of the licensing process. However, you will still need to pass a written and practical road test before receiving your license.

In most cases, adult applicants will be required to complete a few basic steps before they become licensed, including:

  1. Get ready: Start by making an appointment at your local DMV office, and take time to familiarize yourself with driving laws. Now is also a good time to gather your necessary documents (see below).
  2. Study for the written test: Most states require passing a written test on traffic laws and safe driving practices. Study the state’s driver’s handbook and take practice tests. You may also opt for online courses that teach you these driving basics.
  3. Get a Learner’s Permit (if required): In some states, you may need to first obtain a Learner’s Permit, which allows you to practice driving under certain conditions. Also, depending on your state, you may need to graduate your permit into a Provisional License which offers extra responsibility and flexibility with your driving; this is usually held for a short period before you’re allowed to get an adult license.
  4. Practice driving: Before taking the driving test, it is important to gain experience behind the wheel. You can do this by practicing with a licensed driver, or by enrolling in a driver’s education course.
  5. Take the driving test: When you feel ready, schedule an appointment to take the driving test. This test will assess your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely and follow traffic laws.
  6. Obtain a driver’s license: If you pass the driving test, you will be issued a driver’s license after paying the appropriate fee. In some states, you may need to take a road sign recognition test as well.

If you have previously carried a learner license, you may not be required to take the written test. But a practical driving test may still be needed.

Before Your Driver License (Adult) Appointment

Before you head to the DMV for your written and driving test, you will need to bring a few essential items along with you, including:

  • A completed driver’s license application form
  • Proof of identity (birth certificate, identification card, passport, social security card, etc.)
  • Funds to pay for any fees
  • Proof of residency (mortgage bill, utility bills, rental or lease agreement that a landlord signs, etc.)
  • Proof of vehicle registration and current auto insurance coverage

Additional Information about Licensing

  • If you have recently moved to a new state, keep in mind that each state has specific requirements for new residents. These can include the time frame in which you must obtain a new state driver’s license, written and road testing requirements, and so on.
  • If you want to make sure that you pass your written test on the first try, be aware that online practice testing is available. Additionally, all of the information you need to give your road test should be available online or at your local DMV.
  • Depending on your state, making an appointment for testing may not be required, but it is highly recommended.

By following these general guidelines you’ll soon have a driver’s license as an adult.

Remember — a license is a privilege. It’s important that you follow driving laws and rules not just for your own safety but for everyone else on and around roadways.