Reaching the age of 15 is an exciting time for teens across most of the country, but especially for those who are raring to get out onto California’s beautiful and iconic roads. Yes, if you’re 15 or turning 15 soon, you’re almost ready to start the process of earning your California learner’s permit.
Navigating California’s multi-step DMV system for earning your driver’s license can get confusing and even a little bit frustrating if you don’t know what’s going on. That process is made even more complicated by the myriad of choices you have for taking a driver education course and behind the wheel instructions.
But fear not, here is an easy step-by-step guide that will tell you exactly how to get your California driver’s license from the moment you sign up for a driver education course to the moment you pass your licensing exam.
Take A Driver Education Course
Californians under 17 ½ years old need to pass a driver education before earning a learner’s permit or driver’s license from the DMV. You are eligible to earn a learner’s permit at 15 ½ years old, so if you want to earn your learner’s permit as fast as possible, you have about 6 months from the time you turn 15 to pass a driver education course and earn your learner’s permit.
There are many options out there for driver education courses. Of course, the traditional classroom courses are always available, but they have some downsides.
First, they operate on someone else’s schedule—not yours. This means that by the time you find a course that even fits your schedule and your budget, you may not even be able to complete it before you turn 15 ½, delaying the process of getting your driver’s license.
Even if you can find a course that roughly meets your needs, you need to interrupt your busy life filled with schoolwork, extracurricular activities, sports, friends, and family to show up at a classroom for large chunks of time to complete your course.
Second, classroom courses are boring. Boring instruction means you don’t learn well, and you should be learning this material well. You already spend half your waking hours in school. The last thing you want is to spend even more time in a classroom.
In California, and many other states, you can now take online driver education courses right from the comfort of your own computer whenever and wherever you want. They offer interesting and interactive courses that you can complete according to your own schedule, offering unlimited flexibility.
Some of the top online driver education courses are: Aceable, iDriveSafely, Improv Traffic School, Drivers Ed To Go, and DriversEd.com. Anyone of these courses would be a great choice for complete your driver education requirement.
Pick a Behind-The-Wheel Program
When you show up to take your learner’s permit test, one of the things you will need is proof that you have either completed or are enrolled in a driver training program, otherwise known as a behind-the-wheel training program. Make sure that before you go to the DMV to take your learner’s permit test, you have at least received a certificate of enrollment in a behind-the-wheel program.
Get Your Learner’s Permit
When you show up to the DMV, it’s important to have all the information and forms listed below. If you’re missing even one of them, you won’t be able to take your learner’s permit test.
- Form DL 44 – you can obtain this form in person from the DMV, or order it by mail. Save yourself some time and make sure it’s completed, including your signature and your parents’ signatures, before you arrive.
- Form OL 237 – this is the certificate of completion that you will receive from a driver education program after successful completion of the program. Online courses will usually provide you with the certificate by mail after you have completed the course.
- Driver Training Certificate – As explained above, you will need proof that you have either completed a behind-the-wheel program or that you are enrolled in one.
- Proof of Age and Legal Status – Acceptable documents for proof of age or legal status are a U.S. birth certificate, U.S. passport, U.S. Armed Forces ID, naturalization certificate, permanent resident card.
- Social Security Number – A social security card will meet this requirement.
Complete a Behind-the-Wheel Program
You must complete a 6 hour behind-the-wheel program with a professional instructor before you are allowed to start practicing with your parents. In California, DriversEd.com, with over 25 years of experience teaching drivers of all ages, is a great option for behind-the-wheel training.
You must be at least 16 years old and have had your learner’s permit for 6 months before you are allowed to take your driver’s license exam. This means you have at least 6 months to practice driving, so make good use of that time. California requires that you practice driving for 50 hours with your learner’s permit, with at least 10 of those hours spent driving at night.
With some online driver education courses, you can even take state-approved practice driver’s license exams during this time to help you prepare even more.
Apply For Your License
After you turn 16 and have had your permit for at least 6 months, you can apply for your driver’s license at the DMV. When you show up to take your driver’s license exam, you will need:
- Certificates of completion for both your driver education program and behind-the-wheel program,
- Your learner’s permit,
- A valid vehicle registration,
- Proof of insurance,
- Acceptable proof of age and legal status
- Proof of your full name,
- Your Social Security number.
Once you pass, you’re ready to drive! Follow these easy steps, and you’ll be on the road in just over a year’s time. Good Luck!
Getting a California Driver’s License If You’re Older than 18
Depending on the situation you are in, the application requirements for a driver’s license may vary. See below:
If you’ve never had a driver’s license before in any state or country:
- Obtain an instruction permit to practice driving before you take your driving test.
- Pass your Driving Test.
Note that a provisional license permit is for applicants younger than 18 while those 18 and above get an instruction permit.
If you already have a valid driver’s license issued by another state:
- Fill out a Driver’s License application online here;
- Submit the following requirements to any DMV office near you:
- Your Social Security Number (SSN).
- Proof of your Identity. You can check here for a list of acceptable identity documents. Make sure that your current name matches the name on the identity document you submit.
- Provide acceptable residency documents.
- Pay the application fee. This is non-refundable and valid for 12 months.
- Get a thumbprint scan and have your photo taken.
- Pass a vision exam and knowledge test(s).
Note that you are only allowed to take the knowledge test three times. If you fail after three attempts, you will need to re-apply.
If you already have a valid driver’s license issued by another country:
The Application process in this situation is the same if your driver’s license was issued by another state. The only difference is that you’ll also need to pass the driving test to obtain a California Driver’s license.
You must schedule a driving test appointment online first because the California DMV does not allow you to take the test without a schedule. If you’re having issues using the online appointment system, you can call them at 1-800-777-0133 during regular business hours to schedule an appointment.
You will also be asked to provide proof of financial responsibility (insurance) that meets or exceeds California insurance requirements.
The application fee covers three driving test attempts. If you fail the test, you must schedule a new appointment on another day and pay the retest fee. If you fail three times, you will need to re-apply.
If you are ineligible to apply for a driver’s license but you can prove your legal presence in California:
If this is your situation, you are eligible to receive a standard or REAL ID driver’s license or identification (DL/ID) card. This covers:
- All U.S. citizens
- Green Card holders permanently residing in the state
- Residents with temporary legal status like:
- Recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
- Recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
- Holders of a valid student or employment visa