What is a hardship license?

In the state of California, the minimum age for teens to get their licenses is 16. However, there are times when younger teens simply need their licenses. Many states, including California, offer a solution in times of dire need. It is up to the state to determine how dire that hardship is, and if it is worthy of giving a hardship license California and restricted license to a teenager.

Let’s look at some reasons the state might approve an application for a CA restricted hardship license for a teenager. While the state may not require the teen to first take online traffic school, it may be a good idea.

Location and Distance Between Home and School

Where you live is a big factor in whether a hardship license will be granted.

In metropolitan areas with extensive public transportation, hardship licenses are less likely to be necessary. For example, if a teenager needs to get to school ten miles away in San Francisco, it’s not a big deal. They can just wake up a few minutes early and hop on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). San Francisco has mastered public transportation, so there are very few circumstances where a young teen would need to drive.

Los Angeles is less proficient, but still, between the bus system and Uber, teens can pretty much find their way wherever they need to go.

But in more rural areas, attending school ten miles away could be a real problem. Despite the old adage about people walking to school ten miles away, barefoot, in the snow, uphill both ways, that actually sounds a whole lot like child abuse by today’s standards. The hardship license is a much healthier alternative.

This requires a signed letter from the principal, explaining that there are not any other viable transportation options to reliably get the teenager to school.


Speaking of health, one valid reason to get a teen hardship license is for health concerns.

For example, there is a teenager with a need for doctor’s appointments that are only available when the teen’s parents are working. That teen may be granted a hardship license so that they can drive themselves to their appointments. Alternately, there could be a parent suffering from an illness which prevents them from driving the teen to school. That would also be a valid reason, in the eyes of the state, to obtain a hardship license.

In cases where there are medical reasons to need that license, the state will require a letter from the doctor. That letter would need to describe the condition and give an estimated date when the situation may be resolved.


If a teenager is working to supplement their family’s income, that’s a solid indicator the teen is responsible enough to have a hardship license. Keep in mind, this isn’t like having a summer job for some extra cash. The job would need to be necessary to the teen’s family for their financial well-being in order to qualify for a hardship license. To get the hardship license for that reason, a parent would need to send in a written statement detailing the financial need of the teenager’s job. Of course, the teen would also need to have no other options to get to work than to drive.

Do You Need To Get A Permit First?

In short, no. You do not need a permit to apply for a hardship license. But don’t worry. They’ll have plenty of other hoops for you to jump through.

Under normal circumstances, the minimum California driver’s permit age is 15 ½ years old. Also, a permit can usually only be obtained after completing a driver’s education course. The next step would be to take and pass a permit test at the DMV. From that date, new permit holders must wait six months before becoming eligible to test for their licenses. Even if they turn 16 less than 6 months after earning their permits, they must have the permit for six months before being able to test for the license.

On the other hand, if a driver reaches the age of 18 and has never had a valid license, that driver can skip the driver’s ed course and test for a permit. That permit has a little more freedom than the standard teenage permit, but there are still limitations until the full driver’s license can be earned.

How to apply for a CA hardship license

Hardship licenses are meant to be granted in only the most extreme circumstances. To apply, click here.