What it takes to get a drivers licence around the US

Bret Hartman/AP Images for the National Safety Council and The Allstate FoundationObtaining a driver’s licence is different depending on where you are in the US.

Getting your driver’s licence is a rite of passage ― but it’s also a long process.

Most states have some form of graduated licence programs in place to ensure you’re ready to be driving on the road. These often include a supervised learning period and a restricted licence before you’re able to receive a full-privilege licence.

A 2017 study found that these graduated licence programs have been instrumental in reducing car crashes among 16 and 17-year-olds.

Here are 10 things you need to know about getting a US driver’s licence, from how old you need to be to how often you need to renew it.


Most states require you to obtain a permit before getting your licence.

Estrada Anton/ShutterstockChances are you’ll have to obtain a permit first.

To get issued a restricted, or provisional licence, teen drivers must first obtain a learner’s permit, which allows them to drive while supervised under specific conditions. Most states require you to be at least 15 to obtain a learner’s permit but some, like Iowa, only require you be 14.

To know the exact permit requirements for your state, click here.


You’ll most likely have to go driver’s education.

ShutterstockYou might have to take a training course.

Aside from having a learner’s permit, states require you to undergo driver’s education and pass the state’s driving test.

For example, in Maine, a driver must complete a driver’s training course that includes 30 hours of classroom instruction and ten hours behind-the-wheel training. Different states, however, have different requirements.

To find out your state’s driver’s education requirements, here‘s a state-by-state overview.


In the majority of US states, you can get a restricted driver’s licence at 16.

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesStates, such as California, require you to be 16 to obtain a licence.

For a majority of states, at age 16 you can get a restricted licence, meaning you might not be able to drive during certain hours or have passengers depending on your state.

These states include California, Colorado, Texas, and many more.


Some states, like South Dakota, have lower age requirements.

Flickr/J. Stephen ConnYou can be under 15 and drive in South Dakota.

In South Dakota, you can get a restricted licence when you’re 14 years and 3 months old ― the lowest age of any US state.

North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho issue restricted licenses to drivers 15 years old and older


Other states require you to be over 16 years old to get a restricted licence.

Walter Hickey / BINew Jersey requires people to be 17 before getting a licence.

The age to get a restricted licence is 16 years and 6 months in states such as Kentucky, Maryland, and, Rhode Island.

In New Jersey, a person must be 17 years old to get a restricted driver’s licence.

In Connecticut, you need to be 16 years and 4 months old to get a restricted licence. The age is slightly lower (16 years and 3 months) in Indiana and Virginia.

For a full list of age requirements by state, click here.


Some states issue a hardship licence to minors.

Khomenko Maryna/ShutterstockHardship licenses are given to people under specific circumstances.

As defined by the DMV, a hardship licence is a special licence issued in circumstances when a teen driver who would ordinarily be too young to drive is allowed to ― like requiring transportation to get to school or a job.

This type of licence isn’t common across the US, but some states that offer it include California and Ohio.

To see if your state offers a hardship licence, check here.


You can get an unrestricted (full) licence in the US between the ages of 16 and 18.

David McNew/Getty ImagesAn unrestricted licence allows you to drive at any time of the night.

States such as Idaho and Montana lift at least some restrictions for drivers 16 and up.

In other states, like Maryland and Texas, you can’t get an unrestricted licence until you’re 18.

To see how old you must be to obtain an unrestricted licence, click here.


The rules are different for adults 18 and older who are applying for their first driver’s licence.

As with restricted licenses, the rules for getting a full licence vary by state, especially if you’re over 18.

In Illinois, for instance, new drivers ages 18 to 20 who have never previously had a licence need to take an adult driver’s ed course.

In Virginia, however, you’re only required to take driver’s ed if you fail the knowledge exam three times.

Other prerequisites might include a DUI prevention class, which drivers in New Mexico must take if they’re between 18 and 24.

Additionally, states like Colorado and Pennsylvania require new drivers of all ages to get a permit before they’re eligible for a licence.

To check the specific requirements of your state when applying for a driver’s licence at 18 years and older, click here.


Getting a US driver’s licence costs money no matter which state you live in.

flickr/brianholcombExpect to pay for your licence.

As in other countries around the world, there’s a fee to get a driver’s licence in the US.

American licenses can cost as little as $US10 (Missouri) to upwards of $US89 (Washington).

To check the cost of getting a licence in your state, click here.


Excluding Arizona, US driver’s licenses are valid for between four and eight years.

Marjan Apostolovic/ShutterstockIt’s important to renew your licence after it expires.

In states such as Oklahoma and Michigan, you need to renew your driver’s licence every four years. Elsewhere, licenses are valid for between five and eight years.

People who live in Arizona have it the best – new licenses are good until you turn 50. The only catch is that you need to have your photo updated and have your vision tested every 12 years. For drivers 50 and older, licenses are valid for five years.

To find out how long driver’s licenses are valid in your state, click here.

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