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Apply for a California Learners Permit

California Learners Permit Application

If you have never held a drivers license issued in California or another state, the application process will start from applying for a California learners permit. The exact application procedure largely depends on your age at the time of the application, since California drivers permit applicants under the age of 18 must fulfill additional graduated drivers license requirements. However, regardless your age, applying for a California drivers permit will require you to take a number of exams, such as a eye exam and a learners permit test. Possession of a California learner's permit only grants you limited driving privileges and you must observe all permit requirements and restrictions at this stage.

California Graduated Drivers License Program

Statistics show us that drivers under the age of 18 years face significant risks of being involved in a traffic accident during their first years of drivers. In fact, traffic accidents is a number one cause of death for people between 18 and 20 years of age. This happens for a number of reasons, such as lack of driving experience and failure to observe some basic safety procedures.

The California graduated drivers license program was developed in an attempt to reduce the number of casualties among teen drivers. The program targets only drivers under the age of 18 and introduces a number of additional permit requirements and restrictions that need to be observed before a full drivers license can be issued. The official California DMV manual contains a detailed list of these requirements.

In California, the graduated license system also requires drivers under the age of 17 ½ years to complete a DMV-approved California driver's education course prior to applying for a learners permit. You have a choice between taking a drivers ed course online or completing the program through a commercial driving school. Some schools offer packages that bundle a drivers ed program with some driving lessons.

Tests Required

During the application process, you will have to take a number of tests that should help the DMV decide whether you will be able to become a safe driver. When applying for a California learner's permit, you are required to take a vision exam and a learner's permit test. Prior to being issued with a drivers license, you will also have to take a California driver's test.

California Permit Test

You must take a California permit test no matter how old you are, there are no exceptions to this rule. Those who are exchanging an out-of-state driver's license for a California license will also be subjected to the knowledge exam. The test contains 46 multiple choice questions that cover the state driving rules and road signs. You must answer at least 39 questions correctly. The application fee that you pay grants you three attempts at passing the permit test, if you fail three times, you have to pay the application fee again. If you want to see whether you are ready for the exam, you can take a California permit practice test online.

California Vision Exam

Before you can apply for a California driver's license, you are required to pass a vision test. You must be able to pass a vision test, with or without corrective lenses, with visual acuity better than 20/200 in at least one eye without the use of a bioptic telescopic lens or similar bioptic device to meet the minimum vision acuity standard. You are allowed to use a bioptic lens for the behind-the-wheel road test. A bioptic lens restriction and daytime driving only restriction will be added to your driver record.

Paperwork Required

When you are applying for a California drivers permit at the DMV, you will be required to present the following:

  • proof of age
  • proof of legal status
  • proof of California residency
  • Social Security Number

If you are under 18 years of age, you must also present a certificate of completion for a drivers education course, what is commonly known as a “pink slip”.

You can check what documents pass for acceptable proof of identification directly with the California DMV.

Applying for a California Learners Permit - Under 18 Years of Age

The minimum age when you can apply for a drivers permit is 15 ½ years, however you should start preparing for it in advance. Most schools will allow you to enroll in a drivers education class once you are at least 15 years of age. Remember that completion of a drivers ed class is mandatory for everyone who is under 17 ½ years of age, you simply will not be admitted at the DMV without your certificate of completion. Certificates of completion usually cannot be transmitted electronically, so get an original from the driving school.

Once you are of legal age, visit a local DMV office and present the required documents. One of your parents of legal guardians will need to be present at the time of the application. They will need to sign your application for a drivers license, the form that you fill in at the DMV office.

If your paperwork checks out and you pass both the eye exam and the permit test, you are issued with a California learners permit. The permit is not valid at this point, it will be validated by a driving instructor during your first driving session. So the first thing you should do when you receive your learners permit is to schedule a driving lesson through a local driving school. This is important: you cannot drive with your parents until you get at least one driving lesson with a professional driving instructor!

Applying for a California Drivers Permit - 18 Years of Age and Older

The application process is very similar to that followed by younger drivers, with a minor exception - you are not required to complete a drivers education course before applying for a learners permit. However, you still have to take the same exams, so grab yourself a copy of the DMV manual and study the state driving rules.

When you are ready, visit a local DMV office and submit your application for a learners permit. The DMV will have you take an eye exam and a knowledge test. Once you are done with those, you will be issued with a California drivers permit.

Operating Under a Learners Permit

When operating a vehicle under a learners permit, it is very important to remember that you do not have full driving privileges. You are issued with a learners permit for one purpose and that is to allow you to gain some driving experience before applying for a California drivers license. Due to this reason, you are restricted to driving only while being supervised by another licensed driver. If you are under 18 years of age, your supervising driver must at least 25 years old. California permit holders at least 18 years of age must be supervised by someone at least 18 years old.

Although this is the main limitation, there are other California permit restrictions for you to observe until you get a drivers license. For example, teenagers are forbidden from using a cell phone or any other communication or entertainment device while driving. A clerk at the DMV should be able to give you a full list of permit restrictions when you are issued with a learners permit.