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Instruction Permit Requirements in California

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California Graduated Driver Licensing Laws

Like all other states in USA, California has a graduated driver licensing law. It applies to all new drivers under 18 years and has three steps:

Phase Minimum Age
I: Provisional Instruction Permit 15 years six months
II: Provisional Driver License 16 years
III: Unrestricted Driver License 12 months with provisional license or 18 years

  California Graduated Driver’s License System
 

What is a Provisional Instruction Permit?

All California drivers under 18 years must obtain a provisional instruction permit before they can qualify for a provisional driver’s license.

If the applicant is under 18 years, the permit and driver’s license are called provisional since they have restrictions that licenses for adults (18 and over) don’t have.

An instruction permit is necessary before you can start practicing driving skills together with a supervising driver. You must always carry the permit with you when you drive.

How to Obtain a California Instruction Permit

To obtain a provisional instruction permit a new driver must:

  • Be at least 15½ years of age.
  • Fill out the DMV application form (DL 44).
  • Get parents’ or guardians’ signatures on the application form if they are under 18 years.
  • Present acceptable documents establishing identity, residency (if applicable), and birth date.
  • Provide proof of full name and social security number.
  • Pay the required application fee.
  • Pass an eye exam.
  • Have their picture taken.
  • Give a thumb print.
  • Pass a written DMV knowledge test.

If you are 17½ years old or younger, you must also show proof that you:

  • Completed driver education (Certificate of Completion of Driver Education) OR
  • Are enrolled and participating in an approved integrated driver education/driver training program (Certificate of Enrollment in an Integrated [Classroom] Driver Education and Driver Training Program).

California DMV does not accept an out-of-state instruction permit as acceptable proof of driver education and driver training. If your driver education or driving training courses were taken in another state, you should get a DL33 form completed by the out-of-state school.

If you are older than 17½ years, the driver education is not mandatory.

California Instruction Permit Rules

With a California provisional instruction permit, you must

  • Obey the traffic laws.
  • Drive without a collision.
  • Drive with your parent, guardian, spouse, or an adult 25 years of age or older, who has a valid California driver license.
  • Hold your permit for six months before you can take your driving test to get your driver license, which means you must be at least 16 years of age.
  • NOT use cell phones (even if hands-free) or other mobile electronic devices while driving.
  • Make sure that all passengers use permanently installed seat belts.
  • Complete at least 50 hours of supervised driving practice.


You Cannot Drive Alone

It is illegal for permit holder to drive alone at any time. A parent, guardian, spouse, or adult 25 years of age or older, who has a valid California driver license, must always sit in the front seat in order to take control of the vehicle, if necessary.

If you are under 18 years, you cannot start your 50-hour driving practice, unless yo have successfully completed your driver education.

Unlike some other states, there is no curfew restrictions for California permit holders and no restrictions in number of passengers while you hold an instruction permit.

Such restrictions are, however, in place when you get your provisional license.

There is a night-time curfew and a passenger restriction for the first 12 months or until you turn 18.

Restrictions on the California Provisional Driver License

During the first 12 months with a provisional license, a minor cannot:

  • Drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
  • Drive with passengers under 20 years unless accompanied by a licensed parent or guardian, California driver 25 years old or older, or a certified driving instructor.
  • Use a cellphone or other wireless electronic communication device while driving.

Exceptions to night curfew and passenger restrictions exist when reasonable transportation is not available, and it is necessary for you to drive. You must carry a signed note explaining why you must drive and when the necessity will end.

The law allows exceptions for medical necessity (carry a note signed by your physician), school or school-authorized activities (note signed by your school principal, dean, or designee), employment necessity (note signed by your employer), or immediate need of family member (note signed by your parent or guardian). Exceptions are also allowed for an emancipated minor.

California Graduated Driver’s License Law

Learn more about California graduated driver’s license system here: What is California Graduated Driver’s License?


Yes, in California you must complete a classroom course if you are 15 ½ – 17 ½ years old.

You may also show proof that you are participating in an approved integrated driver education/driver training (DE/DT) program.

If you are over 17 ½ but under 18 years, a course is not mandatory, but you cannot take the driving test until you are 18 years.

If you are over 18 years old, you do not need to take the driver education course or training but must get an instruction permit before DMV issues an unrestricted license.

Yes, you must take the written knowledge test at a DMV location.

You cannot take the knowledge test online from your home.

If you fail the written knowledge test in California, you must wait 7 days before you can take the test again.

You have 3 chances to pass the test. Should you fail all 3 times, you must start over by filling out a new application and paying the appropriate fees.

Yes, unlike many other states, there is no curfew restrictions for California permit holders and no restrictions in number of passengers.

Please note that a parent, guardian, spouse or adult 25 years of age or older, who has a valid California Driver License, must always be with you when you drive.

Unlike many other states, there is no restrictions in number of passengers for California permit holders.

A parent, guardian, spouse or adult 25 years of age or older, who has a valid California DL, must always be with you when you drive.

With a California  instruction permit you must complete 50 hours of supervised driving practice before DMV can issue a provisional license. Not less than 10 of these 50 hours must be completed when driving during darkness.

Darkness is defined as any time from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise and any other time when visibility is not sufficient to render clearly discernible any person or vehicle on the highway at a distance of 1,000 feet.

When you apply for a provisional license, a parent, spouse, guardian, or licensed or certified driving instructor must certify that you completed the driving practice and is prepared to take the department’s driving test. In some situations, you may have a licensed driver 25 years of age or older complete the certification.

You should also note that these 50 hours of driving practice is in addition to any driver training during your driver education course.

[Vehicle Code 12814.6]

Your California Instruction Permit is valid for one year from the application date. If you are under 17½ years, you must have your permit signed and validated by an instructor before you can start practicing, but the permit is valid from one year from the application date, not from when our instructor signs it.

If you let your Instruction Permit expire, you must go through the application process and pay the application fee again. Be sure to keep the expired permit, since it is proof of the mandatory six-month holding period.


Instruction Permit Summary Quiz

Results

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Well done!

Check the rules again!

#1. To obtain a instruction permit you must be:

#2. Who can be the supervising driver when you hold an instruction permit?

A driver with an instruction permit must accompanied by a California licensed driver 25 years of age or older whose driving privilege is not on probation.

The age requirement of this paragraph does not apply if the licensed driver is the parent, spouse, or guardian of the permit holder or is a licensed or certified driving instructor.

#3. Can you use a cell phone while driving if you hold a permit?

It is against the law for a minor to use a cell phone or electronic wireless communications device while driving. You may, however, use a cell phone to contact law enforcement, a health care provider, the fire department, or another emergency entity in an emergency situation when driving.

#4. A driver edution is mandatory, unless you are:

If you are at least 17½ years old, you may obtain a permit without completing driver education or driver training. However, you cannot get a driver license before you are 18 years old.

#5. To get a provisional driver license you must be:

You must be at least 16 years old.

#6. To get a provisional driver license you must have held your instruction permit for at least:

You must have had a California instruction permit or an instruction permit from another state for at least 6 months.

#7. When you get a provisional license you cannot drive between

There is a night-time curfew and a passenger restriction for the first 12 months or until you turn 18. The night-time curfew means you cannot drive you cannot drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

See your result

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21 Comments

  1. If I am 25 and get a permit, how long do I have until it expires? Also, will the permit be an identification card or a printed piece of paper that allows me to drive?

  2. So I received my permit (when I was 21 years old) on Dec. 23rd 2019, and then it expired on Dec. 23rd 2020. Do I need to renew the permit before I take my driver’s test? Or can I just attempt to get my DL now?

    • Be sure to keep your expired permit since it is proof that you had your permit for at least 6 months which means you don’t have to wait the six months before you take your road test. But you must must go through the application process and pay the application fee again. That includes getting all documents ready and take the theory test once again.

  3. My son is a little over 17-1/2 years old. He just obtained his CA instruction permit. It says “This instruction permit is not valid until the applicant completes the first day of behind the wheel training or reaches age 17-1/2.” Given his age, does this mean that the permit is valid without the first day of behind the wheel training (with a certified instructor)? We (his parents) would like to start teaching him asap because we cannot get him into an instruction program for more than a month.

  4. I have been having my permit for about 5 months but I’m barley taking the driver training this month can i still take my drivers test next month or do I have wait six month from when my permit has been signed by instructor.

    • Assuming you are under 18 years. Then, you must:

      1. Have passed your driver education and driver training course (<17½).
      2. Hold your instruction permit for at least six months.
      3. Complete and have a certification of 50 hours of supervised driving practice (of which 10 must be during darkness)

      Six months and the one-year expiration date are counted from the application date.

      When the instructor validated your permit, you were allowed to start practicing with a supervising driver.

  5. I just turned 17 1/2 and I have had my california drivers permit for 3 months. Can I already take the physical drivers test? Or do I have to wait another 3 months to complete the full 6 months. I need my drivers license due to my situation. I’ve googled this question but the answers confused me. Please let me know! Thanks.

    • As long as you are under 18 years, the GDL rules applies, which means you must hold your permit for at least six months and practice driving for at least 50 hours before you can take a road skills test.

  6. so I have an odd question for you. Is there a limit on how many times a person can get an instruction permit? Like let’s say your 18+ and you let it expire then go get another one. Are you able to do thatbover and over without any limitations?

    • Yes. If you miss the 12-month deadline you must apply for a new permit and take all tests again. Nothing in the California Vehicle Code limits the number of times you can do that.

  7. I am 18 and I want to get my drivers license do I have to get my instruction permit first? If so how long do I have to wait until I can have a California drivers license?

    • Yes, unless you have been licensed before, DMV always issues a permit before you can get a California driver’s license. Regardless of age.

      If you are 18 years or older, you don’t have to pass the driver education course and there is no waiting time. When you have the permit you can schedule the behind-the-wheel test as soon as you feel that you are ready.

      A permit is issued so you can practice driving with a supervising driver. The permit doesn’t allow you to drive alone – not even to take the test.

  8. I am moving from NY to CA in October. I have a learner’s permit from NY and I am 25 years old. Will I be able to transfer my permit to CA? Can I drive with my NY permit while I am there? For the first month or two I won’t have a permanent address, so I am also unsure on how to apply for a CA license or permit without it.

    • Since you are 25 years old, you may drive with your permit if it is valid and as long as you aren’t considered a resident.

      If you are employed in CA, registered at a university, paying utilities or a phone etc. you probably have a temporary CA address. That may be enough to prove residency. In other words, 2 documents with a temporary address may be enough to get you a DL. But a temporary address comes with the hassle of changing address on your DL when you move to a more permanent address.

      http://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/file/residency-documents-list-pdf

  9. I am 18 and recently obtained my permit. Do I need to take driving courses to be able to get my drivers license?

  10. Jennifer Sanchez Mendoza July 13, 2020 at 4:06 pm

    I’m getting my instructional permit this month so I will be getting my provisional license in January. I’d be 17 and 5 months and I was wondering if that would be an issue considering that when you’re 17 1/2 you can’t take the test until you turn 18.

  11. I was wondering if I can get a instruction permit if I don’t have a social security number. I’m 15 and a half and have completed drivers education and am in the USA because my dad has an E2 visa and I am ineligible for a social security number, Can I povide other documents instead of a social security number?

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