What do I need to get my driver's license?

Obtaining a driver's license gives you the right to drive a vehicle without supervision. In most states, you can get a license at 16, although some states restrict a full driver’s license to those 18 and up. You'll typically need documentation such as a certified copy of your birth certificate and Social Security card. To get a license, you must also pass vision, written, and driving exams.

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What documents are needed for a driver's license?

Beyond your birth certificate and your Social Security card, you may need additional documentation depending on where you live or the type of ID you're applying for. For example, if you're getting a REAL ID, which is a form of identification that has stricter compliance requirements, there are additional required documents which may include:

Proof of identity

You may be asked to bring another form of identification besides a birth certificate. This can be a U.S. passport or other form of government-issued ID. If your address doesn't match the one listed on your ID, you may need to update this before you apply for a driver's license.

Proof of residence

If you're applying for a license for the first time, you may be required to prove you live where you say you do. For applicants still living at home, their parent or guardian can help obtain these documents. A utility bill or lease should work if you live on your own.

Parental consent

If you're 16, you'll likely need parental consent, requiring parents to sign a form stating they permit their child to apply for a license.

Depending on the state, you may also be required to provide other documentation, like proof of schooling or driver's education for a first-time driver's license. Check with your local department of motor vehicles (DMV) to discover the required documents.

What are the steps to get a driver's license?

1. Meet the requirements

The first step in getting a driver's license is ensuring you meet the requirements. You must be at least 15 ½ years old to apply for a learner's permit or license in many states. If you're under 18, then you must accrue a set amount of time behind the wheel before qualifying for the license exam. The number of hours varies by state but can include day and night-time driving requirements.

If you are starting the process of getting a driver's license, reach out to your local DMV to determine the paperwork and driving time requirements. If you don't meet those, take some time to become comfortable behind the wheel.

Some states also require a certain amount of time in a classroom for driver's education courses. Even if you aren't required to take these classes, doing so will teach you skills that reduce the odds of getting a ticket or even getting into a car accident.

2. Pass the exams

You will need to pass a vision, a written, and a driving exam. The exam will quiz you on the road rules, road signs, and safety topics. You can get a driver's manual from your state DMV to review before you take the written exam.

The driving exam will test your knowledge of procedures on the road and practical ability in parallel and perpendicular parking techniques. Make sure to put in the necessary practice ahead of time. Operating a vehicle can be dangerous if you aren't familiar with how it works. The driving exam is as much about ensuring your safety as granting you the right to drive.

In many states, you'll take the driving exam with a DMV instructor, though you may also have the option of taking the exam at your driving school.

3. Pay the application fee

Every state charges an application fee, but it may vary depending on your age. If it's your first time applying for a license and you are under 18, the fee is generally less than it would be for someone over 18 applying for their first license. Renewal fees are often the same cost as an application fee.

You should now be licensed and ready to go. Your DMV or driving school may issue you a temporary license until your permanent one arrives.

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