DMV Learner’s Permit: The Ultimate 2021 Guide

DMV Learner’s Permit: The Ultimate 2021 Guide

Zutobi
by Zutobi · Updated Apr 21, 2021

Before you can apply for a driver’s license, you must first earn your DMV learner’s permit. While some states allow adults to bypass this step, teen drivers under the age of 18 are always mandated to follow these requirements. This identification card will allow you to practice driving behind the wheel with a licensed driver.

There are many steps towards gaining your learner’s permit – some more difficult than ever. However, this guide is designed to make the process as simple and streamlined as possible. You won’t need to reference anything else along the way!

What Is a Learner’s Permit?

Minors are not allowed to legally drive in the United States without obtaining a learner’s permit – often called a driver’s permit, learner’s license, or provisional permit. It is the first step towards receiving your full, unrestricted driver’s license in your state of residence. 

A permit will allow you to drive a vehicle under certain restrictions for the duration of your learning period while getting used to dealing with different traffic hazards and situations. Your restrictions will also depend on your state. They include terms such as restraints on late night driving, number of passengers in your vehicle, and who those passengers are. 

There are also limits on where you can drive, placing emphasis on high traffic and tourist areas. These restrictions will be discussed in depth towards the end of this guide. 

Do You Need a Learner’s Permit?

Yes, all drivers should complete the learner’s permit process to gain a full understanding of how to operate a motor vehicle safely in their state. This not only protects you but the thousands of other drivers you’ll pass while driving throughout your lifetime. Newly licensed teen drivers have a crash risk 1.5 times higher than those with 1-2 years of experience.

The permit was created to nurture a safe driving environment for all drivers on the road. You will learn how to operate a motor vehicle safely while becoming acclimated with traffic rules and regulations that have been standardized for several years. The process also helps you gain comfortability behind the wheel, as many states require a minimum amount of driving hours for all students. Use this period as a learning experience to help you become the safest driver possible when your permit restrictions are lifted.

Applying for a Permit

Once you have identified the age at which you’re eligible to apply for a learner’s permit, the next step would be to start the process! Much of the tasks you’ll be required to complete will take place at your local Department of Motor Vehicles, so make sure you’re well-acquainted with the building of your choice. 

When Can You Apply for a Driver's Permit?

The age at which you can apply for a permit depends on your state. All states allow adults over the age of 18 to obtain a permit. Consult the table below to identify the age at which your state allows minors to apply.

StateDriver’s Permit Age
Alabama15
Alaska14
Arizona15 ½ 
Arkansas14
California15 ½ 
Colorado15
Connecticut16
Delaware16
District of Columbia16
Florida15
Georgia15
Hawaii15 ½ 
Idaho14 ½ 
Illinois15
Indiana15
Iowa14
Kansas14
Kentucky16
Louisiana15
Maine15
Maryland15 ¾ 
Massachusetts16
Michigan14 ¾ 
Minnesota15
Mississippi15
Missouri15
Montana14 ½ 
Nebraska15
Nevada15 ½ 
New Hampshire15 ½ 
New Jersey16
New Mexico15
New York16
North Carolina15
North Dakota14
Ohio15 ½ 
Oklahoma15 ½ 
Oregon15
Pennsylvania16
Rhode Island16
South Carolina15
South Dakota14
Tennessee15
Texas15
Utah15
Vermont15
Virginia15 ½ 
Washington15
West Virginia15
Wisconsin15 ½ 
Wyoming15

How to Apply

Applying for a driver’s permit is one of the simpler tasks to complete when looking to obtain full driving privileges in your state. You will have to first take the DMV permit test. This exam is designed to test your basic understanding of road rules and traffic laws. When you feel prepared to take the exam, visit your local DMV to take the exam and further your permit application.

Presenting Approved DMV Documents

The Department of Motor Vehicles keeps a running record of every driver on the road, starting from when they receive their permit as a teenager. When beginning this process for the first time, the DMV will ask you for several documents to prove your identity, as well as your legal and residential status within the United States.

It is important to remember to bring these documents with you when applying for a driver’s permit, or you risk being denied on the spot. We have you covered with the list of documents you need to bring with you. As always, this list may vary slightly from state to state, so be sure to check in with your local DMV to ensure you have everything you need.

  • Proof of identity
  • Social security number
  • Proof of state residency
  • Proof of United States citizenship or legal presence

Are There Any Fees?

In addition to presenting documents in order to apply for your learner’s permit, you will be required to pay a fee as well. Some states charge as little as $40 for the application fee, while some assess a fee of $55 or more.

The DMV Permit Test

Studying for the Permit Test

Studying for and taking the permit test is one of the most important aspects of the process. The test will quiz you on various laws and regulations in your state.

Most students opt towards studying their state’s driver’s handbook in order to prepare for the DMV permit test. However, there are much better ways to digest driving information relevant to the exam.

One of the most popular new methods of studying is utilizing the Zutobi website. We provide hundreds of thousands of students with a resource that allows them to study everything they need to know before heading into the DMV for their written test. There are study guides available for all fifty states, so you can learn your state-specific guidelines.

Taking the Permit Test

Once you have sufficiently prepared for the exam, your permit test will either be taken online or at your local DMV office.

How Can You Pass the Test?

The permit test is full of road signs and rules that every driver must know when operating a motor vehicle. There are several ways to ensure you get a great score on this exam. You should consider taking these actions the night before going in to complete the test.

  • Take practice tests
  • Study your DMV handbook
  • Using a driving test platform, such as Zutobi
  • Get a good night’s rest
  • Eat a hearty breakfast the morning of the exam

While taking the exam, you’ll want to make sure you read each question fully and answer to the best of your ability. Remember that there is no award for first place, so it is in your best interest to take your time and utilize the full period allotted to you.

How Many Questions Are on the Test?

This question varies by state, but the average range is generally between 25 and 50 questions. Many states require a passing score as low as 70%, while other states, such as Illinois, require a passing score of 80% or higher.

You’ll want to check with your local DMV to understand the grade breakdown in your state.

What if You Fail the Written Test? 

If you’ve failed the test, there’s no reason to worry. In most states, you can retake the exam up to three times before having to restart the entire driving permit process.

The test retake can occur as early as the next day, however, there is no need to rush into it. Be sure to study hard before redoing your exam to ensure the best chance of success moving forward.

What Happens After the Test?

If you’ve passed your written test – congratulations! Your local DMV will issue you a temporary driving permit on the spot and have your permanent card mailed to you in 5-10 business days.

As a driver with a learner’s license, you are required to abide by certain permit restrictions until you take the DMV road test and finally obtain your full driver’s license. Here is a general list of those rules again, for your reference.

  • You must keep your learner’s permit with you at all times while driving
  • You are prohibited from driving during the hours of 10 pm to 6 am
  • You must not acquire any underage alcohol convictions
  • You may only have one passenger under the age of 20 who is not a sibling, child, or stepchild
  • You are only allowed to utilize the permit within your state

Generally, you must hold your permit for six months, or up until your turn 18, before you can apply for your full driver’s license and take the road exam. This is the perfect time to get acclimated to the road and obeying traffic signs and signals.

Most state DMV’s require student drivers to keep a log of their driving to ensure they’re getting the proper amount of practice leading up to the road exam. These sessions should always be completed with a parent, legal guardian, or experienced adult driver with at least 5 years of experience. In addition to your driving log, you should prepare the following documents:

  • Application for driver’s license in your specific state
  • Document providing proof of identity and date of birth
  • Social security card or proof of social security number
  • Document proving state residence
  • Document proving legal status/citizenship
  • Insurance coverage documentation for the vehicle used in road exam 

The Vision Test

The vision test is designed to test your visual acuity as it relates to your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. It occurs after the permit test is completed. This exam must be taken at the DMV, meaning if you took the permit test online, you will still be required to visit in person before your license is issued.

In most states, vision levels of 20/40 are considered standard for drivers. Those who do not meet these requirements will need to purchase corrective lenses before being issued a learner’s permit. Consult with your local optometrist to determine the type of lenses and frame that work best for your situation. Corrective contact lenses are also a popular option for drivers.

Do You Need to Practice With a Supervised Driver?

Once you have completed both tests and presented all the necessary documentation, you will be subject to a certain number of supervised hours. If you are over the age of 18, your state may allow you to bypass this step, however, all minors are required to complete supervised driving by law.

Regardless, you should be spending as much time as possible safely learning to operate a motor vehicle. The best way to do this would be to include a licensed driver on your trips, as they know the road better than you and will be able to instruct you on what you may or may not be doing correctly. 

The number of supervised driving hours needed to progress with a learner’s permit is generally around 50 hours. After this amount of time, you should be more than ready to take on the road alone.

Enrolling in a Driver’s Education Course

Enrolling in a state-approved driver’s education course is the next step in the driver’s permit process. Driver’s education will teach you the intricacies of the road including traffic signs, road signals, different vehicle maneuvers, and more. Depending on the course provider, as well as the state you reside in, you may be able to take the course online, in person, or in a hybrid fashion.

Do You Need to Enroll in a Driver’s Education Course?

Driver’s education courses are generally only required for student drivers under the age of 21 years. If you are still in school, check your district’s policy on student drivers – many high schools also offer driver’s ed courses for free, or at a significant discount rate. Adult drivers over the age of 18 should check with their state government for information on licensed driver’s ed providers.

Many states require between 15 and 30 hours of class time, while some demand up to 45 hours of lessons.

What Are the DMV Learner's Permit Restrictions?

While getting your permit is undoubtedly a milestone to be proud of, you must now understand the restrictions that come with operating a motor vehicle under it. These guidelines are put in place to ensure the safety of all drivers on the road, including yourself. If you are caught violating these rules, you may be subject to fines, jail time, and/or the revocation of your permit.

Be sure you’re abiding by the general rules described below. Make sure to check the specific restrictions for your state.

#1 – You must keep your permit with you at all times while driving

Just like an unrestricted driver’s license, your learner’s permit must stay on your person at all times while driving. Not only does this card prove your eligibility to be driving, but it can also be used to identify you in case of an emergency.

#2 – You are prohibited from driving during the hours of 10 pm to 6 am

Late night driving is nerve wracking for lots of people, especially new drivers. Additionally, driving in darkness severely hinders your ability to see what’s in front of and around your vehicle. This rule is designed to keep you on the road during the day, as you’ll learn better from mistakes you can see, and you won’t be pressured by the uncertainties of night driving.

#3 – You must not acquire any underage alcohol convictions

In the United States, nobody is allowed to be in possession or under the influence of alcohol until the age of 21 years of age. If you are caught offending this law, you may be subject to the loss of your driving privileges until you reach the age of 21 years of age.

Additionally, engaging in reckless driving, distracted driving, or excessive speeding may deem you ineligible to receiving your driver’s license for an extended period of time. Bottom line, keep your eyes on the road and use safe driving techniques to avoid any of these events from taking place.

#4 – You may only have one passenger under the age of 20 who is not a sibling, child, or stepchild

The time with your driving permit is a period where you should be striving to gain a better understanding of road rules and laws. As such, there is little reason to be driving with many teens under the age of 20, as they have little to no driving experience themselves.

#5 – You are only allowed to drive within your state

Because driving rules and regulations can vary from state to state, you will only be allowed to utilize your permit within the state of its issuance. This is to avoid confusion when trying to the rules of the road, allowing you to stick to one standard.

For drivers in large states such as Texas, California, and Alaska, this restriction is not too difficult to abide by, as it can take upwards of 5 hours to travel into a bordering state. However, drivers in smaller states such as Vermont, Rhode Island, and Delaware will need to take extra caution when operating to ensure not to cross state lines.

If necessary, you can apply for a waiver of these restrictions. Your state DMV will determine whether or not to approve your request.

What Are the Insurance Requirements With a Learner’s Permit?

All licensed drivers, whether provisional or permanent, will require insurance before hitting the road. However, you don’t necessarily need your own policy. If you are still dependent on your parents, you can sign up for a policy under them. There are several different policy types providing you and your vehicle with different levels of protection in case of a crash or other accident on the road. 

Comprehensive Coverage

Comprehensive coverage is exactly as it sounds – it covers any damage that may happen to your vehicle from unforeseen events such as theft, vandalism, hail, or fire. In the event of a crash, your vehicle will be covered a well. Your chosen comprehensive coverage package will come with a deductible, often times between $50 to $250. The lower your deductible, the more you’ll pay for coverage every month. Comprehensive coverage includes some (or all) of the following coverage levels.

Liability Coverage

In all fifty states, automotive liability coverage is mandatory. You will have to purchase the minimum level of liability coverage (set forth by your state) to be considered legally insured and able to operate a motor vehicle. Liability coverage usually comes in two parts:

  1. Bodily injury liability is responsible for paying the costs related to another person’s injury if you cause an accident. Your insurance company will be responsible for these fees up to a certain amount
  2. Property damage liability will help pay for property damage that was caused as a result of an accident or other event while driving

Uninsured Motorist Coverage

Although required under law, many drivers fail to insure themselves and their vehicles while on the road. If you’re hit by one of these individuals, it’ll be very difficult to receive payment in order to cover your medical bills, property damage, and damage caused to your vehicle. With uninsured (and underinsured) motorist coverage, your insurance will be able to cover you in instances where the other driver’s coverage is insufficient.

Collision Coverage

Collision coverage is quite self-explanatory. If you’re involved in a vehicle collision of any sort, collision coverage is responsible for paying to repair or replace your car, up to its market value. Whether you’re involved in an incident with another vehicle, or responsible for a collision with a light pole or fence, your vehicle will be covered under this coverage level.

Medical Payments Coverage

Medical payments coverage is responsible for exactly what it sounds like – covering medical payments. If you or your passengers are injured in an accident, your medical payments may be covered under medical payments coverage. Expenses such as surgery, X-rays, MRI’s, and rehab all may be covered through medical payments coverage.

Personal Injury Protection

Personal injury protection is only available to drivers of certain states, but is very similar to medical payments coverage. If you’re involved in an accident, personal injury protection will help you cover medical expenses as well as expenses incurred as a result of your injury, such as lost wages, child care, etc.

When Will Your Driver’s Permit Expire?

A driver’s license is generally valid for 2-4 years, depending on the specific state you live in. The expiration date of your permit will be clearly labeled on the identification card. Although you are able to carry your permit for 4 years in some states, you will want to apply for a driver’s license as soon as possible to lift the many restrictions associated with a driving permit.

If you notice your permit expiring soon, you’ll want to visit your DMV at the earliest convenience to determine the next steps. If you are renewing an active permit that has not yet expired, the process should be fairly simple. However, if you’re attempting to renew an already expired permit, you may have to retake the DMV permit test, pay the required fee, and provide DMV approved documentation.

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