Driver’s Permit Rules for Young and New Drivers

Driver’s permits, also called learner’s permits or provisional drivers licenses, are issued to people between the ages of 14 and 20 years old. In some cases, they are issued to drivers over this age if they have never had a drivers license before. The exact age range covered by a provisional permit differs from one state to another. 

Provisional drivers permits allow the permit holder to operate a vehicle while learning to drive but restrict the times of day and the number of passengers the driver may carry in the car. Also, direct supervision by an adult driver with a valid license is required when driving with a provisional license.

The purpose of a provisional license is to assure a young or inexperienced driver has ample time to develop the driving skills and experience he or she needs for the safe operation of a vehicle. You need lots of practice before cruising down public roadways on your own.

Driver’s Permit Rules Vary by State

Each state has its own rules for issuing drivers permits. Many states now have what’s called Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) programs for people under the age of 20 who are applying for a first-time drivers license. 

States with GDL programs usually have three phases of licensing for young drivers:

  • Learning phase requires a specific number of hours of driving while supervised by an adult driver sitting in the front passenger seat. 

  • Intermediate stage allows some unsupervised driving but still requires supervision during higher risk driving situations, such as driving at night or on the freeway. 

  • Full privilege status is the issuance of a regular drivers license for operating a passenger car without restrictions.

Also, many states have other rules for new drivers. For example, a majority of states and Washington, D.C., prohibit all use of a cell phone by drivers in training.

Only Vermont does not restrict driving at night during the intermediate phase of its GDL program. Most states also limit the number of passengers the driver can carry until the person gets their full license. 

The state of New Jersey is the one state requiring drivers under 21 who do not yet have a full license to have a special decal on the car, indicating they are in driver training. 

States Where You Have to Pass a Permit Test

Another commonality between the states is the use of a permit test, also called a knowledge exam. The permit test will ask questions about state laws, road rules, road signs and more. The test is designed to ensure new drivers fully understand driving laws and regulations before attempting to drive.

Permit tests are different from one state to the next. Below is a quick overview of what tests are needed to get a driving permit in each state.

ALABAMA: Written test and vision test

ALASKA: Written test and vision test 

ARIZONA : Written test (can be taken online) and vision test (in-person)

ARKANSAS: (GDL Program) Knowledge test

CALIFORNIA: Knowledge test (must wait 1 week to retest if you fail), hearing test and vision test

COLORADO: Written test and vision test (eyesight must be 20/40 or better) (if you’re under 16 years old you must take a 30-hour Colorado drivers ed course to get a permit) 

CONNECTICUT: 25-question knowledge test and vision test

DELAWARE: Written test and vision test (GDL program - if under 18 must pass a certified Delaware Driver Education Course before taking the tests)

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (WASHINGTON D.C.): Written test and vision test (eyesight must be 20/40 or better)

FLORIDA: Class E knowledge test, hearing test and vision test (also must take Traffic Law and Substance Abuse Education course)

GEORGIA: Knowledge exam and vision exam

HAWAII: Knowledge test (must wait 1 week to retest if you fail) and vision test (examiner will determine if any other tests are needed to ensure physical fitness)

IDAHO: Knowledge test and vision test (eyesight must be 20/40 or better in at least one eye)

ILLINOIS: Written exam and vision screening

INDIANA: Knowledge test, road sign reading test and vision test (additional physical or mental exams may be required)

IOWA: Knowledge test and vision test (eyesight must be 20/40 or better in at least one eye)

KANSAS: Knowledge test, road sign reading test and vision test

KENTUCKY: Written knowledge test and vision test

Louisiana : 40-question knowledge test and vision test (must pass drivers ed program and can take the knowledge test within their drivers ed course)

MAINE: Written test and vision test (Written test is waived if you complete a drivers ed program)

MARYLAND: Knowledge test, road sign reading test and vision test (eyesight must be 20/70 or better in at least one eye)

MASSACHUSETTS: Written test and visual test (for field vision and color recognition)

MICHIGAN: Written test and vision test (written test may be included in a drivers ed program)

MINNESOTA: Knowledge test, road sign reading test and vision test 

MISSISSIPPI: Written test with at least 10 questions and vision test (written test may be a part of a high school drivers ed program)

MISSOURI: Written test, road sign recognition test and vision test

MONTANA

Knowledge test and vision test

NEBRASKA: Written test and vision test (for acuity and field of vision)

NEVADA: Written test and vision test

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Written test and vision test (must have 20/40 to 20/70 vision, but can’t be less than 20/40 in both eyes)

NEW JERSEY: (GDL PROGRAM) written exam and vision test (vision must be 20/50 or better)

NEW MEXICO: MVD knowledge exam and vision test (minors must show proof they completed or are currently enrolled in a state-approved driver education program)

NEW YORK: Written test and vision test

NORTH CAROLINA: Knowledge test, road sign recognition test and vision test (teens under 18 years old must be in the GDL program to get a permit)

NORTH DAKOTA: Rules of the Road knowledge test and vision test

OHIO: Knowledge test and vision screening test (to advance to a full drivers license, teens must complete an Ohio drivers ed course)

OKLAHOMA: Written test and vision test (if you are under 16 years old you must be enrolled in a drivers education course)

OREGON: Written test and vision test (vision must be 20/70 or better)

PENNSYLVANIA: Knowledge test, vision test and physical exam

RHODE ISLAND: Written exam and eye exam (if you pass a written exam in a drivers ed course you are exempt from the DMV written exam)

SOUTH CAROLINA: Knowledge test and vision test

SOUTH DAKOTA: Knowledge test and vision test (knowledge test is waived if you complete a state-approved drivers ed course)

TENNESSEE: Written test and eye test (written test is waived if you completed a Class D vehicle drivers education course)

TEXAS: Knowledge test, road sign recognition test and vision test

UTAH: Written test, road sign reading test and vision test (must have 20/40 eyesight or better and must have 120 degree side peripheral vision)

VERMONT: Knowledge test and vision test

VIRGINIA: Knowledge test and vision test (must wait 15 days to retake the knowledge exam if you fail the first time) (must have 20/40 eyesight or better and must have 110 degree side peripheral vision)

WASHINGTON: Knowledge test and vision screening (Those who are enrolled in a drivers ed program can get a driver training school knowledge test waiver. You must be enrolled in drivers ed to get a permit under the age of 16 years old)

WEST VIRGINIA: Knowledge test that includes the effects of alcohol, road sign reading test and vision test

WISCONSIN: Knowledge test, road sign test and vision test (if you’re under 18 you must be enrolled in a certified driver education program to take the tests)

WYOMING: Knowledge test and eyesight exam

Learning the Rules of the Road

There are several ways for new drivers to learn traffic rules and safe driving skills. 

All states publish a Driver Handbook containing the information needed to pass the knowledge skills tests for a drivers license in that state. Driver handbooks are free and can be obtained at any DMV office or downloaded in PDF form from the Internet. Studying one of these booklets is an excellent way of learning traffic rules and regulations for your state. 

Driver’s education courses are also provided by private driver training schools around the country, and some states also have state-sponsored driver education programs. People who are applying for a first-time license who are under age 20 are often required to complete a state-approved driver education training course before applying for a full drivers license. 

DriversEd.com gives you the tools to learn the rules of the road and safe driving skills online. We’ve got Teen Drivers Ed, Adult Drivers Ed and Mature Drivers Ed programs that make fulfilling education requirements fun!

All states publish a Driver Handbook containing the information needed to pass the knowledge skills tests for a drivers license in that state. Driver handbooks are free and can be obtained at any DMV office or downloaded in pdf form from the Internet. Studying one of these booklets is an excellent way of learning traffic rules and regulations for your state. 

Driver’s education courses are also provided by private driver training schools around the country, and some states also have state-sponsored driver education programs. People who are applying for a first-time license who are under age 20 are required to complete a state-approved driver education training course before applying for a full drivers license to learn the rule of the road and safe driving skills.

*This article was updated on 10/14/2020

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