California Provisional License

A California provisional license is the second step in the state’s three-phase licensing system for young drivers. Learn more here.
Written by Melanie Krieps Mergen
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
provisional license is just one step away from a
full driver’s license
for young drivers. It places temporary restrictions on when they can drive and who they can drive as a safety precaution while they get more experience driving on their own.
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What is a provisional driver’s license in California?

A California provisional driver’s license is a license given to drivers
under 18 years old
. The provisional license allows young drivers to gain experience behind the wheel by themselves while still having certain restrictions in place for safety reasons.
Think of the provisional driver’s license as the middle step to obtaining a full
California driver’s license
  • Provisional instruction permit
  • Provisional driver’s license
  • Full driver’s license
Californians who are at least
16 years old
and have already had their instruction permit for
at least six months
can apply for a provisional license.
To graduate from a provisional instruction permit to a provisional driver’s license, you’ll need to:
  • Complete approved driver education and driver training programs
  • Log at least 50 hours of driving practice time with a licensed parent, guardian, or qualified driving instructor—with at least 10 hours being night driving
  • Pass a final driving test
Once you’ve passed your driving test, paid the applicable fees, and provide proof of insurance or financial responsibility, you’ll be issued a temporary provisional driver’s license until your official one comes in the mail, which typically takes about three to four weeks. 

What are the age requirements for a California provisional driver’s license?

California drivers can apply for their provisional driver’s license as soon as they’re
16 years old
and have had their instruction permit for
at least six months
As for adults obtaining a California driver’s license for the first time, provisional driver’s licenses aren’t a requirement, but you’ll still need to obtain an instruction permit. Then you can schedule a driving test when you’re ready.

How long is a provisional license in California?

Drivers must hold a provisional driver’s license
a relatively
spotless driver record
until they are at least 18 years old. 
For California drivers with provisional licenses, driving violations can delay your ability to enjoy the new freedoms that come with your restriction-free license.
Getting a violation point on a driver record with two or more points within a 12-month period will result in a 30-day driving restriction.
The next offense gets more severe—a violation point on a driver record with three or more points within 12 months comes with a six-month suspension
a one-year probation period. Even if you turn 18 within this period, you’ll have to wait until the probation period wraps up before you can apply for your full driver’s license.

What are the rules for driving with a provisional license in California?

The time that you have a California provisional driver’s license is treated as a learning period—as such, young drivers have certain limitations on when they can drive and who they can bring along as they gain more experience behind the wheel.
Here’s a look at what these restrictions include, as well as the possible exemptions that can apply.

What are the restrictions for a provisional license?

During the first 12 months off holding a California provisional driver’s license, minor drivers are subject to the following restrictions:
  • No driving between 11 pm and 5 am
  • No transporting passengers under 20 years old unless accompanied by a licensed parent/guardian, licensed California driver age 25 or older, or a certified California driving instructor
All minors
, regardless of how long they’ve held a provisional license, are
prohibited from using phones or other wireless communication devices
while driving—including the use of hands-free tools—unless they’re calling emergency services or on private property.

Are there any exemptions to California provisional license restrictions?

With proper documentation signed by an applicable authority noting when it will end, some exemptions may apply to California’s provisional driver’s license restrictions:
  • Medical necessity:
    Must be signed by a physician with diagnosis and estimated recovery time
  • School or school-related activities:
    Must be signed by a school authority (principal, dean, etc.) noting the reason for the activity and estimated end date
  • Employment necessity:
    Must be signed by your employer and confirm your employment status, along with the anticipated duration of your employment
  • Immediate family member necessity:
    Must be signed by a parent or guardian, stating the reason for the necessity and its end date
  • Emancipated minors:
    No documentation necessary, but must have completed the  Transmittal Form (DL 11) to declare emancipation and must have a California Insurance Proof Certificate (SR 22/SR 1P) in place of parent/guardian signatures
If any of these exemptions apply to you, be sure you have easy access to it (just like your proof of insurance and vehicle registration) in case you’re pulled over and need to show it to law enforcement.

How do I change my California provisional license to a full license?

As long as there’s no suspension or probation period to wait out, young California drivers can typically have their provisional license upgraded to a full driver’s license once they turn 18.
If you received your driver’s education and driver training in another state before moving to California, the DMV may accept your prior training with an official letter from your previous secondary school. 
For more information, you can check in with your local
California DMV office
or review the official
Parent-Teen Training Guide
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