Driving-tests.org

Everything You Need to Know About the Learner's Permit

Your first important step toward becoming a licensed driver in 2017.

What is covered in this guide

1. How US Teenage Driver Licensing Works

1
Study the Handbook and Take Practice Tests
Start by studying your state's DMV official driver's handbook and taking practice tests.
2
Pass the Learner's Permit Test
Pass the written/computerized knowledge test at the DMV.
3
Practice with a Supervising Driver/Driver's Ed
You are required to log a certain number of hours of driving under supervision. Some states also require you to take Driver's Ed classes.
4
Pass the Driving (Road) Test
Once you've logged the required number of supervised driving hours, you can take your behind-the-wheel (road) test.
5
Drive with Restrictions
Once you've passed your road test, you'll be able to drive under certain restrictions until you reach maturity.
6
All Restrictions Removed Once You Reach Maturity
"Maturity" always includes adulthood, but in some states it can also include other things.

2. Learner's Permit Basics: What, How, Where, and Why

Congratulations! If you've reached the legal age in your state to obtain a learner's permit (LP), you're on your way to becoming a licensed driver. It's an exciting milestone in anyone's life. We've answered some questions about the LP to help get you behind the wheel as smoothly as possible.

Who needs a learner's permit?

How do I know this is what I need?
If you've never driven before, probably you. Why? Because most states make LPs mandatory if you are under a certain age, and some states make them mandatory for new drivers of all ages. The minimum age for a learner's permit is typically between 14 and 18, depending on your state's requirements .

If you have never driven a vehicle before, most states will require you to obtain a learner's permit before you can obtain a full driver's license. You may hear learner's permits called by different names, but it's not worth getting confused about - they mostly all mean the same thing. Other names may be a driver's permit, learner's license, provisional license, and provisional instruction permit. We'll just call it a learner's permit (LP) to keep it simple.

The learner's permit places various restrictions on your driving. Most importantly, you must be supervised by a licensed adult driver at all times while you drive.

You may have heard that the process can be stressful. Or maybe other friends of yours have said it was a breeze. Regardless of how you feel, you may have a few questions about the permit exam and what to expect. Keep in mind that it doesn't have to be a stressful thing, especially when you know what to expect. To help you out, we've answered common questions about LPs and the written test. As you are reading, remember that every answer really depends on the state you live in. So, understand your state's rules as best you can and use this as a guide. You can check out Driving-Tests.org to know the ins-and-outs of your state's permitting requirements.

What Exactly Is a Learner's Permit?

A learner's permit is a limited driver's license issued to someone who is first learning to drive. It lets the person drive a car, but only under certain conditions. You can get a driver's license only after you've reached a certain age, driven with the LP for a certain amount of time, passed a driving (road) test, and met various paperwork requirements.

Here's What It Looks Like:

What Can I Actually Do with a Learner's Permit?

You can drive! Where? On all public roads and highways, as long as you drive with an adult passenger who already has a driver's license. Your permit gives you the opportunity to practice driving so that you can get ready to take your driving test.

How Does a Learner's Permit Differ from a Regular Driver's License?

You can't do as many things with a permit as you'll be able to with a driver's license. What exactly you can and can't do depends on where you live. The rules require a licensed adult passenger in the front seat to supervise your driving at all times; a limited number of passengers (often zero); and a set number of hours you must drive before you can apply for a license.

How do I get a learner's permit?

The requirements vary from state to state, but typically, you must do the following:
  • Pass a written knowledge test. (also known as the learner's permit test ).
  • Pass a vision test to show that you can see well enough to drive.
  • Provide documents that verify your identity, age, and home address (residency) in your state.
  • Complete a driver's education (driver's ed) course.
  • Fill out an application for a learner's permit.
  • Pay a fee for the permit (and possibly an additional fee for the knowledge test).
  • Get signed consent from your parent or guardian if you're under 18.

Where Do I Apply for a Permit?

You can apply in person at your local DMV. Some states may also allow you to apply online.
DMVS driver license office door
DMV Driver License office

How Do I Find a Nearby DMV Office?

Many cities have more than one DMV office, but not every DMV office may be equipped to conduct written tests or issue LPs. Visit the DMV Locator to find a nearby DMV office that provides these services, along with its hours of operation, address and phone number.

Do I Have to Sit Behind the Wheel and Drive?

Nope, not for this test. You are thinking of a driving (road) test, which you'll have to take to get your driver's license. For your permit, the knowledge exam is a written exam.

3. Preparing For Your Permit Test The Right Way

The learner's permit test allows you to get your LP. It's a test to make sure you know the basic rules and will be safe on the roads. Did you know that 4 out of 10 people fail their written test the first time they take it? It's usually because they failed to adequately prepare for it. The more hours you dedicate to studying for the test, the greater the likelihood that you'll easily pass it with flying colors on your first attempt.

Why do I need to pass a written test at all?

Why can't I just drive?
Before you can obtain a learner's permit, you'll need to prove that you have a full understanding of your state's road, traffic and safety rules. Passing the written knowledge test demonstrates that you have all the knowledge you need to be a safe, responsible, and courteous driver.

What Should I Do to Prepare for the Test?

First, thoroughly study your state's driver's manual. Next, take practice tests . Taking a practice test allows you to assess your knowledge with test questions that are similar to ones on the actual test. You'll be able to discover gaps in your knowledge and successfully overcome them before test day.

Do I Need to Make an Appointment to Take the Permit Test?

While it's typically not required, many states allow you to make an appointment, which can eliminate long waiting times and speed up the process. In many cases, you can make an appointment online. Check with your local DMV office.
Santa Clara DMV appointment slip (ticket)
Santa Clara DMV appointment ticket

Where Do I Take the Test? Can I Take It Online?

You will probably take the permit test at the DMV. A small number of states let you take the test at other locations; check with your state to find out where. In a few states like Florida , can also take the test online. However, most states still require you to take the test in person.We created Driving-Tests.org to help you quickly find information about your local DMV and the knowledge exams in your state.

Can I Apply for a Permit Without a Social Security Number?

If you cannot produce a Social Security number (SSN), it can be very tough to get a permit or driver's license. However, twelve states like Washington and California, as well as D.C., now allow people without SSNs to obtain LPs, but typically only if you are not eligible for an SSN. (That can be the case if you're not a US citizen.) Check your local laws here to learn how your state handles this issue.

Can I Apply for a Learner's Permit Without Taking Driver's Ed?

It depends on which state you live in. In California, if you are over 17½, you do not have to take driver's education. In Massachusetts and Nevada, you must be 18 years old to skip driver's ed. Mississippi requires driver's ed if you are at least 14 years of age and want a permit before you turn 15. As always, check your state's laws.

4. Taking the Permit Test: What to Expect

While taking the permit test may seem daunting and a bit scary, it's probably just your fears of the unknown. Put your mind at ease by learning exactly what to expect on the all-important test day.

What's actually on the exam?

What makes it hard?
Learner's permit tests are based on your state's driving manual. You know the one, that thick booklet filled with rules, diagrams, and street signs. THAT is what the test is based on. You may get questions about road signs, traffic rules, and handling specific situations like school zones and adverse weather conditions. The tests are designed to make sure you know traffic basics before getting behind the wheel.

Even though all the answers are in the handbook or manual, there is a lot of information to digest there. You can't just read through the handbook once and be done with it. The exam tests how well you know a large amount of information, including rules that may be new to you. Also, the exam questions may not be worded in exactly the same way as the handbook, so you have to understand the information, not just memorize it. People are often unprepared and unsure of what to expect, which makes it more likely that they will fail.
Undocumented immigrant looking through the California DMV driver's manual
A teenager pages through the California driver's manual.

Source

What Is the Format of the Test?

The written knowledge test is multiple choice. No need to worry about your grammar on this test. You just need to be able to answer questions about the rules of the road, driving laws, road signs, and traffic rules.

Are All Permit Tests the Same?

Nope! Each state has its own driving laws, so each state has created its own tests on its own laws. The number of test questions, the fee you must pay, and the amount of time you have to complete the test are different in every state.

How Hard Is the Learner's Permit Test?

Like every other test you've ever taken, some people find the knowledge test super easy, while others find it very hard. 35 to 43 percent of applicants fail the knowledge test on their first try. However, we think that's because those folks just didn't prepare well enough. We're here to help.

What Kind of Questions Will I Be Asked on the Permit Test?

How Much Does the Permit Test Cost?

The cost of taking the knowledge test varies from state to state. In Alabama, the fee for the test is $5; in other states, the fee can be over $100.

Is the Test Timed?

Probably. Typically, the amount of time you have to complete the test is limited. Depending on the state, it can range from 20 minutes to one hour or more. Check your state's rules to know exactly how much time you have.

How Many Questions Are There?

The number of questions on the permit test varies depending on where you live. Some states' tests contain 40 questions; other states' tests just contain 20 or 30. The passing score is typically 80 percent.

Is the Test Computerized or on Paper?

Many states have now put their knowledge tests on computers. The computer chooses questions randomly from a pool of available questions, so each test taker gets different questions to answer. Other states still offer written examinations. How you take the test will depend on what state you live in.
PennDOT license computers for PA license learners permit testing
PennDOT license computers for PA license learners permit testing.

Source

What Happens if I Fail?

The good news is that nothing terrible will happen. You'll be able to take the test again. Some states let you take the test three times for a one-time fee. The bad news is that it's never fun to fail an exam. You may get discouraged or embarrassed when you're among friends who already passed it. Plus, you'll need to spend more time studying, so it will take you longer to get your permit. You're much better off nailing it the first time and walking away confidently to start your driving career.

5. Learner's Permit Restrictions: What You Can &Can't Do

Statistics prove that teen drivers have the highest accident rates out of all driver groups. That's why until you gain more confidence behind the wheel, and prove you're a safe, courteous and responsible driver, you'll have to follow certain restrictions.

What are some common restrictions on learner's permits?

Here are a few common restrictions that are placed on permit holders in many states. (Always check with your state.)
  • You must have a licensed adult in the front seat to supervise your driving at all times. All states have this requirement. Some states also require the licensed adult to have a certain number of years of driving experience.
  • While you are driving, you must not text or talk on a cell phone, not even a hands-free cell phone.
  • You and everyone else in your vehicle must wear a seat belt.
  • You must always carry your LP with you when you drive.

Whom Can I Drive with Once I Have My Permit?

All states require a licensed adult be in the front seat with you. States differ on what age the licensed adult must be. In some states, the licensed adult can be as young as 19; in others, he or she must be at least 21 or even 25.

Where and When Can I Drive?

You may drive on all public roadways: country roads, highways, city lanes, etc. However, you may not be able to drive everywhere anytime you wish. For example, some states require a licensed parent or guardian to be in the front seat from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., not just any licensed adult. As always, check your state's laws to learn when and where you can drive.

Can I Ever Drive Without a Licensed Adult in the Front Seat?

For most states, in most cases, the answer is no. However, a few states may let you drive unsupervised for short periods. For example, if you have to visit a doctor regularly for health reasons or you need to get to work and the only way is to drive, you may be able to drive without a licensed adult for that short period of time. If you may need to do this, spend a lot of time familiarizing yourself with your state's regulations. Situations like these typically require written permission from a parent or guardian as well as a signed statement from your doctor or boss that you must get there and the only way to get there is to drive yourself.
Teenage learner's permit holder with her mom driving a car on a highway
Always have a licensed adult with you in the passenger seat

Source

Can I Take Passengers?

It depends on your state. Most states don't allow anyone else inside the car except you and the supervising licensed adult.

Can I Drive in Another State?

It all depends on your state's laws and which states you want to drive in. The state you want to drive in may not accept your permit as valid if the laws on permits are different there. Check with your own state and the states you want to drive in.

What if I Drive Without a Permit?

Driving without your permit is not a good idea. If you are caught violating a restriction, you might face any or all of the following:
  • The suspension of your LP, which may mean applying for a new one
  • Fines and penalties
  • Points added to your driving record
  • An extension to the length of time you must hold your LP before you can apply for a driver's license.
Short answer: Don't drive without your permit. Nothing good will come of it.

When Will My Learner's Permit Expire?

Each state sets its own time limit. In most states, LPs are valid for 2 years. But in other states, it can be as long as 5 years.

What Happens When My Permit Expires?

Before you can get a driver's license, you have to meet the requirements set by your state. These requirements typically include getting a certain number of hours of driving practice and passing a driving (road) test. It's possible that you won't meet all these requirements by the time your permit expires. It is illegal for you to drive at all without a valid (unexpired) permit or license.

Can I Renew My Learner's Permit if It Is Expiring?

Most likely, yes! Most states allow you to renew a permit, though they usually only allow you to renew it once. You may also need to pay a fee to renew your permit. Try to renew the permit before it expires. If your permit has already expired, you may have to go through the process of applying for a new permit all over again. Of course, you need to check with your state to see what they say about all this.

Do I Need to Get Auto Insurance to Drive with a Learner's Permit?

If you drive, whether with a license or a permit, you need to be covered by an auto insurance policy. But don't worry! You probably don't need to apply for your own policy if the licensed adult in the passenger seat who is supervising your driving has insurance that covers you.

How Is the Learner's Permit Exam Different if I am an Adult?

All applicants – teens and adults – take the same type of written exam. But if you're an adult and get a permit, you may not have to wait long before you can apply for a driver's license. In some states, you can take the driving (road) test and get a driver's license right after you get your LP – even on the same day.

Can I Have a Permit and a Driver's License at the Same Time?

No, but why would you want to? A permit lets you practice driving to apply for a driver's license. Once you have a driver's license, there is no need for you to possess a learner's permit as well. Besides, before the DMV issues you a driver's license, they will probably ask you to hand over your permit.