How to Get a California Driver’s License
The California Graduated Driver License program, or GDL, will give you time to learn how to drive in a controlled way. There are three stages to this program, from no California driver’s to a full license.
Completing the California GDL takes about a year. First, you’ll complete a California DMV approved driver training course for your learner’s permit. Then, 50 hours of supervised driving for a restricted license. Drive with it for 12 months, or until you turn 17, to receive your unrestricted license.
The steps below have the details you’ll need to know to get your full, unrestricted, California driver’s license.
Get your California provisional instruction permit
If you’re at least 15 ½ years old, you can start the process. To get ready, download the California Driver Handbook and start reading through it. At your local California Department of Motor Vehicle location, you’ll need to fill out an application, bring in proof of identity, and pay a fee of $38.00. The California DMV accepts cash, atm/debit card, or cashier’s check or money order.
Before being issued your CA provisional instruction permit, you’ll have to pass a written knowledge test. You’ll have to answer at least 38 out of 46 questions correctly to pass. Consider working through some practice exams before you take it.
If you fail, you’ll need to wait 7 days to retake the test.
You will need to either be enrolled in or have completed a California DMV approved driver training course. If you do not opt for a driver training course, you will have to wait until you turn 18 years old to receive your license. Once you are 18 years of age, you will not be subject to an intermediary licensing period.
However, a California DMV approved driver training course is the best way to learn to drive safely.
When you’re ready to enroll in driver education find a driving school to get started.
A course will consist of either 30 hours or 2 1/2 semester periods of professional classroom instruction (not including breaks or mealtimes) or a home study or internet training program which meets the same requirements as classroom instruction.
You will be given an official paper which is your California driver’s permit. You’ll need to have that with you every time you’re behind the wheel.
You must have your California driving permit for at least six months before you can apply for a regular license. During that time, you’ll need to have 50 hours driving practice with 10 of those being at night. While you have your permit, you must have a licensed adult over the age of twenty-five ride with you.
Getting your California Restricted License
Receiving your license requires that you’ve completed certain requirements. Those are reaching the age of 16.
Driving Skills Test: You will be required to pass a driving test with a DMV evaluator who will make sure you can perform basic driving tasks safely.
Before you take it, you should check out the Top 10 Automatic Fails on Driver Tests, so you’ll know what not to do on test day.
Once you’re ready, you can schedule a behind the wheel test at the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
If you fail this test, you can retake it in two weeks. Each additional attempt will cost you $7. Should you fail to pass after your 3rd attempt, you’ll have to start the application process again, starting with the written test for your learner’s permit.
Vision Test: You will need to take a vision test. If you need glasses be sure you’re wearing them.
Your license will be mailed to you and will have your photograph on it. They take your picture the day you pass your driving skills test. This license will come with the following restrictions:
While you have your restricted license, you can have no passengers younger than 20 years old.
As you continue to learn how to operate a motor vehicle in different conditions, there are certain hours when you won’t be able to drive. Those are 11:00 pm to 5:00 am.
Getting your full unrestricted CA driver’s license
At a certain point, the state feels that you’ve been able to receive enough supervised driving experience that you can go out on your own. Therefore, once you reach 17 or have had your initial license for 12 months, you can get your full license.
This means that previous restrictions are lifted. However, you will not receive an updated license until that one expires. After you renew your license, you will receive your full, unrestricted license in the mail.
Whether you’ve just finished your California graduated licensing process, or are just starting out, you might also want to consider a telematic companion application to better understand your driving habits, and how to improve them.
The best option is the DriverZ Virtual Coach. Download it today to sharpen your S.P.I.D.E.R.Senses™ to build the driving skills that will keep you safe for a lifetime, track your supervised driving hours, and access bespoke driver training based on your specific needs.
Frequently asked questions
Here are answers to some common questions you might have as you start out on your CA licensing journey.
Can I drive with an out of state learner’s permit in California?
If you’re a new resident you may transfer your out of state learner’s permit to California, but you will still have to meet state requirements. If you’re under 17 ½ years old, this means completion of a CA DMV approved driver’s education course, in addition to passing the vision and CA DMV written tests.
Can I replace a lost or stolen learner’s permit?
You can replace a lost or stolen learner’s permit the same way you’d replace a driver’s license, by completing the CA DMV DL 44/eDL 44 form. If you’re a minor, you’ll need to have both parent/guardians sign the application.
California Department of Motor Vehicles information
For comprehensive information on everything related to the California graduated licensing program, visit the California Department of Motor Vehicles You can also call 1-800-777-0133 between 8am to 5pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, or 9am to 5 pm on Wednesdays.
Prepare for your license journey by reviewing the California Driver’s Handbook, and taking a few practice tests.