What is the Driving Age in California?

You must be at least 15 ½ years old to begin the Graduated Drivers License program in California to receive an unrestricted license when you are 18 years old.
Written by Mariza Morin
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Along with many other states,
has implemented the Graduated Drivers License program (GDL) to provide teen drivers—at least 15 ½ years old—with the necessary steps to progressively work toward receiving an unrestricted California driver’s license by age 18. 
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What is the driving age in California?

In California, the minimum driving age is 15 ½ years old for a Graduated Drivers License. Drivers must be 18 to apply for a standard unrestricted driver’s license. 

What is the Graduated Drivers License program in California?

In 1997, California was one of the first states to execute the Graduated Drivers License program (GDL) to help reduce the high rate of teenage car crashes. Unfortunately, motor vehicle accidents are the second leading cause of death among young drivers, according to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The GDL program allows young drivers to gain driving experience before gaining full driving privileges. Generally, most programs include three stages:
  • Instruction permit stage: supervised driving
  • Provisional license stage
    : limited unsupervised driving
  • Full license stage: unrestricted standard driver’s license

How to get your instruction permit in California

Drivers under the age of 18 must adhere to California’s GDL program through the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which limits young drivers in phases as they work their way toward earning a full driver’s license. But before you head down to a
California DMV location
, you must gather all the necessary documents to apply for your learner’s permit. 
Here are the requirements to obtain an instructional permit:
  • You must be at least 15 ½ years old
  • Complete a
    Driver's License & ID Application
    form with a parent's signature
  • Provide an acceptable identification document
  • If you’re under 17 ½ years old, provide a certificate of completion or enrollment in a driver's education program 
  • Pay the required
    application fee
  • Pass the vision test and
    knowledge test
Don’t forget to use the
California Driver Handbook
to study before the big day! Please note that in order to pass the knowledge test, you cannot miss more than eight questions. If you fail, you are allowed three chances, but you have to wait seven days before taking the test again. 
As soon as you pass the knowledge test, you’ll be granted a provisional instruction permit

Provisional instruction permit restrictions

An instruction permit is not valid until you start your driving training and it’s signed by an authorized driving instructor. In addition to a certified driving instructor, you may practice driving with a parent, guardian, or a licensed California driver 25 years or older. A young driver with an instruction permit is not allowed to drive alone—not even to the DMV!
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How to get your provisional driver’s license in California

Now that you’ve got your instructional permit and have worked hard to practice driving, it’s time to move on to the next stage in the GDL program! 
Here are the requirements to obtain a provisional driver’s license:
  • You must be at least 16 years old
  • Hold a California instruction permit for at least six months
  • Present proof that you completed a driver’s education program and driving training
  • Verify that you’ve completed 50 hours of supervised driving practice (10 hours at night) with a parent and instructor's signature
  • Pay the required
    application fee
  • Schedule your
    driving test online
  • Pass the driving test
If you fail, you must wait two weeks before retaking your driving test. You will have three chances to pass your driving test, but if you go beyond this limit, you’ll be required to reapply for your provisional driver’s license. 
Key Takeaway Remember to bring your instruction permit, proof of driver's education and training, and come prepared to pass your driving test before obtaining your provisional DL. 

Provisional driver’s license restrictions

Congrats on getting your first driver’s license! But hold it right there. Once you get your provisional driver’s license, you may now drive alone under certain limitations
During the first 12 months, young drivers may not drive between 11 pm and 5 pm. Newly licensed teen drivers also cannot transport passengers under 20 years old unless accompanied by a parent or guardian, a licensed California driver at least 25 years old, or a certified driving instructor. 
Please note that it’s against
California law
for drivers under 18 years old to use a cell phone or other wireless device while driving—this includes hands-free devices. You may only use your cell phone if there is an emergency. Once you turn 18 years old, provisional restrictions are dropped and you now have a full driver’s license to legally drive in the Golden State. 


According to
California Vehicle Code 12513
, if you’re at least 14 years old but under 18 and reliable transportation is not available to you due to a hardship, you might qualify for a junior permit. A signed note explaining your situation, including a date when your driving necessity will end, must be kept in your possession when driving. Qualified hardships include:
  • Medical reasons with a signed note by a physician
  • School or school-authorized activities
  • Employment with a signed note from your employer
  • Immediate family member business with a signed note from your parent or guardian
  • Emancipated minors (no documentation is required)

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In California, you may get your provisional driver’s license at the age of 16 if you have held your instructional permit for six months, provide proof of a completed driver’s education course and 50 hours of supervised driving practice (including 10 hours at night), and pass your driving test.
Once you get your provisional driver’s license, you may drive by yourself under certain circumstances. Until you’re 18 years old, you cannot drive between 11 pm and 5 pm alone.
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