Can you drive to school with a permit in California?

Getting behind the wheel for the first time can be a thorny subject. Teens are excited to gain independence, while parents feel apprehensive about safety. Not to mention all the rules around teens driving to school can feel overwhelming and confusing: Can you drive to school with a permit? What restrictions are there? And do you need supervision?

If you and your teen have agreed it's time for this milestone, here's what you need to know ahead of the school year.

How Teen Driving Works in California

First, here's a step-by-step overview how the teen driving process works. You'll follow these steps to get your license:

  1. Driver's ed classes. They're mandatory for teen drivers.

  2. Knowledge test. Aspiring drivers must score at least 80% to pass. Once they do, they'll get an instruction permit.

  3. Supervised driving practice. Teens should get comfortable behind the wheel with a parent or guardian who is over the age of 25 and has a valid California-issued license. They'll practice for 50 hours total, with at least 10 hours of nighttime driving practice.

  4. Professional driving practice. A certified instructor will also teach them how to drive.

  5. Road test. A DMV instructor then judges the teen's driving skills.

  6. Probatory period. If they pass, they'll get a provisional driver's license, which has a lot of privileges but also some restrictions.

  7. Full driver's license. Finally, teens get a driver's license like that of an adult.

So, Can Teens Drive to School Alone?

Yes, some teenagers can drive themselves to school. But they have to check off all these boxes:

  • Be 16 or older

  • Have had an instruction permit for at least six months

  • Fulfilled all supervised driving requirements

  • Aced the written and road tests

In other words, teens who want to drive to school by themselves need to apply for and get their provisional driver's license. Just having a permit or some driving practice isn't enough.

Of course, there are some license restrictions. For starters, they can't drive from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. (with a few exceptions, for example, to attend school events). They also can't drive around passengers younger than 20 unless there's a 25-year-old adult supervising.

Can Teens Drive with Only a Permit?

No, teens who only have an instruction permit (or learner's permit) cannot drive by themselves. They need adult supervision at all times. Even if they're just heading to school!

What You Can Do Now

First comes the instruction permit, then a provisional driver's license, then a full driver's license. So where to start first? Easy, schedule an appointment with your local DMV office and go there in person. 

Teens aged 15-and-a-half and older can apply for an instruction permit by:

  • Completing a driver's license application form.

  • Having a parent or guardian sign it.

  • Showing proof of identity and California residency.

  • Showing proof of completion of a California DMV-approved driver's ed course.

  • Paying an application fee.

  • Passing a vision test.

  • Acing the knowledge test.

Only then can teens get behind the wheel with an adult. Let the 50 hours of driving practice begin!

Graduated Licenses Are Worth the Trouble

Teen drivers are more likely to get into accidents than adult drivers — especially at night, and especially when driving with their friends. About eight teens die every day in crashes. To keep teens safe, the state of California implemented this multi-step teen licensing program. It may seem like these are a lot of hoops to jump, but it's for a good cause.

Take the First Step with Driver's Ed

Ready to hit the road? Then the first step is enrolling in a driver's education class. If you want to take classes online to learn at your own pace with engaging videos and animations, then DriversEd is a great resource. Plus, it's approved by the California DMV! The sooner you start, the sooner you'll be ready to drive to school all by yourself.

Get Started with your Online Drivers Ed Course Today

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Updated 8/1/23