Every state has some form of a graduated license law, or GDL law, as a means of keeping teens safe on the road. Its purpose is
to reduce the number of teen fatalities and injuries, often caused by inexperience and over confidence. However, not every state has the same exact law regarding the issue. Some states include more steps in the graduated licensing program than others, and not all states include the same steps.

The California GDL law was enacted in 1997. It requires that teenagers must complete certain steps in the licensing process in order to obtain a driver’s license in the state of California. They are as follows:

  • Complete a driver’s education class. (LINK TO CA TEEN PAGE)
  • For six months, keep a provisional learner’s permit.
  • Complete six hours of behind the wheel training with a professional.
  • Complete at least 50 hours of behind the wheel training with an additional adult over the age of 25 with a valid driver’s license.
  • Apply to take the California provisional license exam and pass it.

Furthermore, the path an individual takes along the graduated licensing path depends upon an individual’s age. For instance, a person 15 years of age is required to complete all of the steps, whereas an adult over the age of 18 need only apply for a license.

Driver’s AgeDriver’s EdObtain Provisional PermitDriver’sTrainingApply for License
15 – 17 1/2YYYY
17 1/2 – 18 Y Y
18 and up   Y

Drivers over the age of 18 applying for a new California driver’s license can find more information about California laws for obtaining a driver’s license here.

Think about it this way: there are only six steps for a young teenager to complete in order to become a licensed driver in the state of California. And completing these six steps is well worth the effort because after they are complete an official driver’s license can be issued.

  • First, take and complete the driver’s education course.
  • Second, enroll in a behind the wheel training course.
  • Third, obtain a permit to drive from the Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Fourth, complete the behind the wheel training course with a passing grade
  • Fifth, practice as much a you can with another licensed driver. Experience is crucial.
  • Sixth, apply for an official valid driver’s license.

Or, to make it easier, simply say that in order to obtain a regular adult driver’s license in the great state of California a teenager must participate in a three phase program, completing each phase successfully.

Phase 1

During the first part of the three-phase process, drivers must learn the ropes. This is the part where the prospective driver becomes a student and enrolls in an education course, completing at least 6 classroom hours. The student must then complete and log at least 50 hours of supervised driving experience. This means that the student must drive with another licensed driver in the vehicle, age 25 or older. So, long as this other driver is currently licensed and a passenger in the vehicle, the student can drive for as many hours at a time as he or she wishes. The student should also drive in all types of weather conditions, day and night time as well, in order to gain as much exposure to the kinds of conditions drivers might face as possible. In fact, 10 of the required 50 hours must be night time driving.

Phase 2

During this phase, a student that is at least 16 years of age may obtain a provisional license, assuming that the behind the wheel driving test from the education course has been completed. In addition, the student must prove that he or she has completed the 50 hours of driving with an adult by providing the signature of a parent, certifying that the required practice has been done.

After a student gets a provisional license, a student is free to drive. However, there are a couple of restrictions to when a teen can drive alone and on who can ride as a passenger. The restrictions apply to the first 12 months of having the provisional license or until the driver turns 18 and are as follows:

  • No passengers under the age of 20 unless a licensed driver of age 25 or older is also in the car.
  • Between the hours of 11 P.M. and 5 A.M., a provisional driver must be accompanied by a licensed driver of 25 years or older.

Phase 3

This is the desired result, the one everyone plays the game for. This is the part where the student gets to take and pass the behind-the-wheel test and the written exam in order to get an official graduated adult license. Mind you, the proper time between phase 2 and phase 3 must pass first. The teen must also have maintained a clean driving record, absent of any court-ordered suspensions, probations, or restrictions while completing the first two phases.

When applying for a provisional license, or even a permanent one, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • A 46 question written test must be taken and passed, with a passing score being at least 39 correct answers.
  • There are only three chances to pass the written test, and an applicant must wait 7 days to retake the test if it is failed.
  • A vision exam must be passed.
  • There is a fee for taking the tests and obtaining the license. The fee covers three exams, (of any nature), and all tests must be completed within a 12 month time frame or the application becomes void and all the process must be repeated all over again.
  • There is a need to show a copy of your birth certificate or a couple of other forms of ID.
  • Thumb prints will be given.
  • A picture will be taken.
  • Proof of insurance and vehicle registration is needed.

How to obtain CA Driver's License and Learners Permit