You must have a driver’s license to legally operate a motor vehicle in the United States. If you are new to driving, start with a learner’s permit. Take your time and practice, and schedule your appointment for your driver’s test when you’re ready. Driver’s licenses are issued by the individual states, so rules vary. You typically must pass a written, driving, and vision test before you can get your driver’s license.
Getting Your Learner’s Permit
- 1 Read the driver’s handbook. You will have to take a written test that will be based on your knowledge and understanding of the rules and regulations outlined in your state’s driver’s handbook.
- You can pick up a print copy of your state’s driver’s handbook at your local DMV. Most states also have their driver’s handbooks available online. Download the most recent version from your state’s official DMV website – you may find similar copies elsewhere online, but they may not be the most recent version.
- The driver’s handbook includes all of the rules of the road that you’ll need to know if you want to be a safe driver. You’re responsible for knowing all the rules, even though you may not be tested on all of them.
- 2 Evaluate the qualifications for a learner’s permit. If you’re under the age of 18, most states require you to get a learner’s permit and hold it for a minimum period of time (typically anywhere from 6 months to a year) before you can get a full license.
- You must be a minimum age to get a learner’s permit – anywhere from 14 to 16 years old, depending on the state. Learner’s permits for drivers under 18 may have greater restrictions than adult learner’s permits.
- Some states, such as California, require that you complete driver’s education courses before you can apply for a learner’s permit.
- 3 Provide proof of your identity and residency. To get a learner’s permit, you must show legal documents to verify who you are and where you live. The specific documents allowed vary by state.
- Proof of identity typically includes a birth certificate, state-issued I.D. card, or passport.
- Documents to prove residency include utility bills or bank statements in your name with your home address. If you’re under 18, you can use a school transcript or letter, and can also get a parent or guardian to vouch for you.
- If you’re under the age of 18, many states also require proof that you are attending school.
- 4 Pay your testing and permit fees. Before you can take the written test and get your permit, you’ll have to pay a fee. The amount of the fee varies among states, but typically is under $100. In some states you may have to pay the fee when you schedule an appointment to get your permit.
- Find out what methods of payment are accepted if you’re paying your fees in person. Some DMVs only take a check or money order.
- 5 Take a written test. Before you can get a learner’s permit, most states require you to take a basic knowledge test based on the traffic rules and regulations discussed in the state driver’s handbook.
- If you need a hearing interpreter, or need to take the written test in a language other than English, check with the DMV before you go to take the test to make sure accommodations can be made.
- The learner’s permit test typically focuses on your knowledge of signs and basic traffic rules such as using your turn signal and passing on the left.
- While it’s possible you could pass a learner’s permit simply from having observed other drivers for years, it’s still wise to read through the driver’s manual at least once or twice. Things other drivers do habitually may not follow the exact letter of the law.
- 6 Pass the vision test. You must be able to see to operate a motor vehicle. If you cannot pass the vision test, you must get glasses or contact lenses to correct your vision before you will be allowed to get your learner’s permit.
- If you already wear glasses or contact lenses, plan to wear them when you go to get your permit. The driver’s license examiner will add an “endorsement” to your permit that states you wear corrective lenses. If you get pulled over while driving and you’re not wearing glasses or contacts, your license to drive isn’t considered valid.
- If you have a light prescription and only wear glasses occasionally, you may want to try to pass the test without them. That way if you happen to get pulled over and you don’t have them, you won’t risk getting cited for driving without a license.
- 7 Get your permit. Provided you pass the written and vision tests and all of your documents are in order, an examiner will take your photo and issue your new learner’s permit. You also may receive information listing the restrictions of driving on a learner’s permit.
- Pay attention to how long your learner’s permit is valid. If your learner’s permit is about to expire and you still don’t feel ready to take the driver’s test to get your full license, you typically can get it renewed.
- Depending on how old you are, you may be required to have a learner’s permit for a certain period of time before you can get your full license.
- Some states also may require you to show that you’ve logged a certain number of practice hours before you will be allowed to take the driver’s test.
Learning to Drive
- 1 Take a driver’s education course. If you’re a high school student when you get your learner’s permit, you may be able to take a driver’s education class through your school for free or for a reduced rate compared to private driving lessons.
- If you’re an adult, it still may be in your best interest to take formal driving lessons, especially if you’ve never driven a car before. Even if you’re already licensed in another country, driving lessons can help you practice with American driving laws that may be different from those in your home country.
- Some states may require you to take other programs, such as drug and alcohol traffic awareness courses. Check these requirements when you get your permit.
- 2 Choose someone to help you practice. You typically are required to have a licensed driver in the car with you at all times if you’re driving on a learner’s permit. If you are under 18, your passengers typically must be over 21 and have had their license for several years.
- Even if you’ve taken a driver’s education course, you still want to get plenty of practice before you take your road test to get your full license. Driving with the DMV examiner for the test will likely make you nervous, so you want to be comfortable behind the wheel.
- Ideally, you want someone who is patient and has been driving for a long time, such as one of your parents or an older family member.
- 3 Study the driver’s handbook. Even if you passed a written test already to get a learner’s permit, you’ll probably still have to take a written test to get your full license. This test will be based on all the rules and regulations in the handbook.
- The written test to get a full license typically is longer and more in-depth than the test you took to get a learner’s permit.
- You may want to get a friend or family member to help you by quizzing you or asking you about the rules in the handbook.
- 4 Use practice written tests. Most states provide practice tests that you can use to study for the written driver’s license test. There may be a practice test in the back of the handbook, or available for download from your state’s DMV website.
- Some states have created smartphone apps that you can download for free. These apps are interactive and give you practice questions as well as scoring and telling you the areas where you can improve.
Getting Your Driver’s License
- 1 Schedule an appointment for your driving test. In some rural areas, you may be able to just walk into the DMV whenever you’re ready to take your driving test. But in most cases, it’s best to schedule an appointment, even if it’s not required, to minimize your wait time.
- Find out if you are expected to bring your own car or if you’ll take the test on a DMV vehicle. Some states require you to take the driving test in the car you plan to drive.
- Make sure a licensed driver goes with you. If you don’t pass the tests and get your license, you won’t be able to drive yourself home.
- 2 Complete an application. Each state has an official form you must complete to get a full driver’s license. You may be able to download the form from your state’s DMV website. You also can fill out a paper form at the DMV on the day of your test.
- The application acts for basic identification information, including your full name and address. It also may ask for descriptive information, such as your height and weight.
- If you are under the age of 18, typically your parent or guardian also must sign your application.
- 3 Submit all documents and fees. You must bring original documents that prove your identity as well as your place of residence. If you got a learner’s permit, you can use that as 1 form of ID.
- If you do have your learner’s permit, find out if you will still be expected to bring other original documents, such as your birth certificate. You don’t want to carry these kind of documents around with you unless it’s absolutely necessary.
- In some states you’ll need to bring proof of your driving time on your learner’s permit or a certificate from a driver’s education course. If you’re under 18, you also may have to bring proof that you are attending school.
- The fees for a driver’s license vary among states, but generally will be under $100. You also may have to pay an additional fee to get your driving test.
- 4 Take the written test. The written test for your full license typically is longer and more comprehensive than the written test you took to get your learner’s permit. It may include hypothetical questions to get you to apply the rules of the road to a given set of circumstances.
- In some states you must pass the written test before you can schedule your driving test. In others, you’ll take both tests at the same time.
- 5 Take your driving test. When you go to the DMV for your appointment, an examiner will go out with you and observe your driving, as well as test various skills. You may be driving on public streets, on a closed course, or both.
- The examiner will be watching that you are obeying all traffic rules, even if you’re on a closed course. Remember to obey all traffic lights and signs, and always use your turn signals.
- 6 Find out the results of your tests. Typically, the DMV examiner who rode with you will tell you the result of your driving test as soon as it’s finished. In fact, you’ll typically have a pretty good idea whether you passed or failed before they even tell you.
- If you failed either the written test or the driving test, find out if there’s a waiting period before you can take it again, and if you have to pay an additional fee.
- 7 Get your picture taken. If you passed all the tests and all your documents are in order, you will be asked to surrender your learner’s permit so you can get your full license. You may get a temporary paper ID at the DMV and the real license in the mail.
- You may need to take another vision test before you get your full license. This may be waived if your learner’s permit is only a year old or less. Even if you do have to take another vision test, you should have no problem passing it as long as everything has remained the same since you took the test for your learner’s permit.
- When you get your driver’s license, inspect it carefully to make sure everything is spelled correctly and there are no mistakes. You typically have a limited window to get mistakes on licenses corrected for free.