How to Get a Tennessee Learner Permit

You’re eligible to get a Tennessee learner permit when you turn 15—but make sure you read this before heading to the DMV.
Written by Macy Fouse
Reviewed by Brittni Brinn
background
In
Tennessee
, you can apply for your learner permit whenever you
turn 15 years old
—but that’s only the first phase in Tennessee’s Graduated Drivers License (GDL) program. 

How to get a Tennessee learner permit

To get a learner permit in Tennessee, you have to be at least 15 years of age. The learner permit is the first step in the state’s three-phase
Graduated Drivers License program
(GDL) program, specifically created to keep new drivers safer on the road. 
At 16 years old, Tennesseans can get an Intermediate Driver License, which they’ll carry until they turn 17. At that point, drivers can get an Intermediate Unrestricted License—the final phase before getting the
regular Class D license
at 18. 
Before you head to your nearest Driver Services Center to get your learner permit, though, there are a few things you’ll need to check off your list. First, you’ll have to pass the Class D Knowledge Exam, which can now be
taken online
. The knowledge test is based on the
Tennessee Comprehensive Driver License Manual
and consists of four sections: traffic signals, safe driving principles, rules of the road, and drugs and alcohol. 
You’ll need to get 24 of the 30 questions right to pass—but don’t stress if you don’t pass the first time. You just have to wait seven days, then you can take another shot. 
Applicants under the age of 18 will also need to obtain
proof of school attendance/progress
from a current Tennessee school. If you haven’t lived in Tennessee for long, you can also get a letter from your school in your previous state confirming your attendance and sufficient progress while enrolled. This letter has to be signed and dated by the principal or guidance counselor no more than 30 days before you apply for your permit.
Unlike the majority of states, completing a driver’s ed course is not a requirement to get your learner permit—or any license—in Tennessee. However, taking a driver’s ed class can go a long way in keeping teens and new drivers safer when out on the open road.
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Heading to the DMV

Now that you’ve got your basic forms ready, it’s time to actually go to the DMV—or Driver Service Center as it’s called in Tennessee. Before you go wait for endless hours in an uncomfortable chair, though, check to see if your local Driver Service Center has the option to
make an appointment
ahead of time. If yours doesn’t, you can still get an idea of how long you’ll wait with the online
live wait times
function. 
Once you’re at the Driver Service Center, you’ll be required to pass a basic vision test confirming that you have at least 20/40 vision. If this is an issue, you can have an eye doctor fill out a special form for evaluation by the Department. Then you’ll meet with an employee to go over all of your documents. Here’s everything you’ll need to bring with you to your Driver Service Center appointment:
MORE: How education level affects car insurance

Tennessee learner permit regulations

Once you’ve gotten your learner permit, you’re ready to roll—as long as you follow the rules. Here are the limits to carrying a Tennessee learner permit:
  • You have to have a licensed driver who is 21 years or older in the front seat at all times while driving
  • You cannot drive between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
  • All passengers in the car must be wearing a seatbelt
As with all drivers in the Volunteer State, you’re also forbidden to use any mobile devices while behind the wheel. 
If you’ve had your learner’s permit for 180 days, you’ll be eligible to get the Intermediate Restricted License when you turn 16. 
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