How to Obtain a Learners Permit in California

A California learners permit allows first-time drivers to practice their driving skills in California. Learners permits are issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). It is not possible to get a learners permit online, even though many other DMV services are available online. Instead, getting a learners permit requires a driver to visit a DMV office in person. The DMV learners permit application process requires that a driver take a test in a closed environment, have a photo taken and provide a signature and thumb print. For these reasons, online learners permits are not an option for drivers in CA. A permit allows inexperienced drivers to safely learn the rules of driving. As such, motorists who hold a permit for driving in CA do not have full driving privileges. Rather, beginners permit holders must abide by DMV rules and restrictions. When a driver has completed the necessary requirements for learners permit holders, he or she may then apply for a drivers license with full driving privileges. Find answers to common learners permit questions by reviewing the information below.

CA Learners Permit Eligibility Requirements

Applying for a learners permit in CA is an option if you are a California resident or legally present non-U.S. citizen who has never held a drivers license. To meet DMV drivers permit eligibility requirements, you must be at least 15 ½ years of age, pass a knowledge test and meet other requirements.

If you are older than 17 ½ years of age, you may obtain a California beginners permit without taking a drivers ed course. However, you must wait until after your 18th birthday to take your driving test if you get your learners permit after you are 17 ½ years of age. If all of the above requirements are met, you are eligible to apply for a learner permit by following the steps detailed below.

How to Get a Learners Permit in California

Some drivers may wonder where to get learners permit credentials in California, because not all DMV offices can accept walk-ins for applications. Because of this, the DMV recommends making a learners permit appointment or visiting a Driver License Processing Center, which will accept applicants without an appointment. Driving permit applicants who are younger than 18 years of age may apply for a for a regular vehicle permit or a motorcycle permit.

To obtain a CA learners drivers license, complete the following steps in order:

  1. If you are between 15 ½ and 17 ½ years of age, take a drivers ed course and obtain a certificate of completion. To learn more about drivers ed courses, download our comprehensive guide.
  2. Fill out the Driver License or Identification Card Application (form DL 44) ahead of time. If you are a minor, have a parent or guardian sign the form.
  3. Bring your DL 44 application, drivers ed certificate (if applicable), Social Security Number, documentation showing show your residency or legal presence and a document that shows your birth date and true full name.
  4. Submit an application fee at the DMV, which entitles you to take up to three DMV tests within a 12-month period.
  5. Pass a vision test and learning permit knowledge test.

You will get learners permit credentials from the CA DMV if you successfully complete the above steps. Before receiving your California beginners permit card, you will give your fingerprint, have your photo taken and provide your signature.

Learners Permit Rules in California

Several beginners permit rules apply for new CA drivers in their first year of driving. Driving permit rules are put in place to protect inexperienced drivers as well as other drivers on the road. Most importantly, drivers with a CA learners permit who are younger than 18 years of age must be supervised by a licensed driver who is 25 years of age or older. The supervising adult must be in a position that allows him or her to take control of the vehicle in the event the permit holder loses control. It is illegal for beginners to drive alone. New drivers who are older than 18 years of age will also face some initial driving restrictions.

Minor CA drivers with a learning permit are also not allowed to transport passengers who are younger than 20 years of age. These learners permit holders are restricted from driving between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. as well. These restrictions apply during the first 12 months that a driver holds a permit, or until the driver turns 18 years of age. When the driver is eligible, driving permit restrictions are lifted automatically, and the driver does not need to obtain a new permit card.

Several exemptions to learning permit rules exist to help drivers who cannot avoid driving between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. For example, drivers who work a job that requires them to drive during the restricted times are exempt as long as they carry a signed statement from their employer verifying the need to drive after hours.