Driving Age by State: A Complete Guide to Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Programs

In the United States, each state has the autonomy to set its legal driving age, which typically ranges between 16 and 18 years old. However, the legal driving ages in every state are set by their Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) systems, which means the driving age by state varies widely. The GDL system is designed to help young drivers gain practical experience and learn safe teen driving habits in stages, with certain restrictions set in place to minimize risks.

Age requirement for a learner's permit by state

 

Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Program Stages

GDL programs are divided into three stages:

  1. Stage 1:  Learner’s permit
  2. Stage 2:  Intermediate license (also known as a provisional or restricted license)
  3. Stage 3:  Full license (also known as an unrestricted or regular license)

The Learner stage allows supervised driving only, while the Intermediate stage introduces unsupervised driving in less risky situations, and finally, the Full Privilege stage allows unsupervised driving at all times. The age at which a young driver progresses through these stages can vary greatly from state to state. In the next section, we provide a detailed table listing the specific driving age by state at different stages of their GDL programs.

Driving Age by State

Below, you will find a list of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, along with the corresponding driving age by state for each stage of their GDL programs. Further, the driving age by state and GDL programs for each are accessible by clicking on the hyperlink for each state.

State (Link to Driving Age by State) Regular License (Min. Age) Intermediate License (Min. Age) Learner’s Permit (Min. Age)
Alabama 17 16 15
Alaska 16 years, 6 months 16 14
Arizona 16 years, 6 months 16 15 years, 6 months
Arkansas 18 16 14
California 17 16 15 years, 6 months
Colorado 17 16 15
Connecticut 18 16 years, 4 months 16
Delaware 17 16 years, 6 months 16
District of Columbia 18 16 years, 6 months 16
Florida 18 16 15
Georgia 18 16 15
Hawaii 17 16 15 years, 6 months
Idaho 16 15 14 years, 6 months
Illinois 18 16 15
Indiana 18 16 years, 3 months 15
Iowa 17 16 14
Kansas 16 years, 6 months 16 14
Kentucky 17 16 years, 6 months 16
Louisiana 17 16 15
Maine 16 years, 9 months 16 15
Maryland 18 16 years, 6 months 15 years, 9 months
Massachusetts 18 16 years, 6 months 16
Michigan 17 16 14 years, 9 months
Minnesota 17 16 15
Mississippi 18 16 15
Missouri 18 16 15
Montana 16 15 14 years, 6 months
Nebraska 17 16 15
Nevada 18 16 15 years, 6 months
New Hampshire 17 years, 1 month 16 15 years, 6 months
New Jersey 18 17 16
New Mexico 16 years, 6 months 15 years, 6 months 15
New York 18 16 years, 6 months 16
North Carolina 16 years, 6 months 16 15
North Dakota 16 15 14
Ohio 18 16 15 years, 6 months
Oklahoma 17 16 15 years, 6 months
Oregon 17 16 15
Pennsylvania 18 16 years, 6 months 16
Rhode Island 17 years, 6 months 16 years, 6 months 16
South Carolina 16 years, 6 months 15 years, 6 months 15
South Dakota 16 14 years, 6 months 14
Tennessee 17 16 15
Texas 18 16 15
Utah 17 16 15
Vermont 16 years, 6 months 16 15
Virginia 18 16 15 years, 6 months
Washington 17 16 15
West Virginia 17 16 15
Wisconsin 16 years, 9 months 16 15 years, 6 months
Wyoming 16 years, 6 months 16 15

 

Example of a Graduated Driver License Program: GDL Laws in Texas

In Texas, the Graduated Driver License Program is enforced in two phases:

  1. Phase 1 is the Learner License, which is issued to drivers aged 15-17 after completing a driver education course. A Learner License permits driving with a licensed adult who is at least 21 years old in the passenger seat. After holding the learner license for a minimum of 6 months and reaching the age of 16, the applicant can advance to Phase 2.
  2. Phase 2 is the Provisional License, which allows unsupervised driving, but with certain restrictions. For the first 12 months, the driver cannot operate a vehicle with more than one passenger under 21 years old who is not a family member. Minors under the age of 18 are prohibited from using wireless communication devices, including hands-free devices, until they reach adulthood, unless it is an emergency situation. Further, they cannot drive between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. unless it’s necessary for work, school, or a medical emergency. This stage lasts until the driver turns 18, at which point they graduate to an unrestricted license.

How Do Learner’s Permits Work?

A learner’s permit is the first step in the GDL process and serves as an important initiation into the world of driving. It allows the permit holder to drive only when supervised by a licensed adult. This stage is designed to provide new drivers with an opportunity to practice driving in a controlled, relatively low-risk context.

Most states require learners to complete a certain number of supervised driving hours before moving on to the intermediate stage. This enables learners to gain hands-on driving experience in a range of situations and conditions, under the guidance of an experienced driver.

To obtain a learner’s permit, individuals usually must pass a knowledge-based written exam covering road signs, traffic laws, and safe driving practices. The specific age at which one can apply for a learner’s permit varies by state, as does the length of time one must hold the permit before moving on to the next stage. It’s important to note that, in many states, learners are also required to maintain a clean driving record during this period and complete a driver’s education course.

What Types of Restrictions Do Intermediate Licenses Have?

An intermediate license, the second stage in the GDL program, allows new drivers to drive unsupervised in less risky situations but still places certain restrictions intended to minimize risk. The exact restrictions can vary by state, but some common examples include:

  • Nighttime Driving Restriction:  Many states prohibit intermediate license holders from driving during certain late night hours, typically between 10pm and 5am, unless accompanied by a licensed adult.
  • Passenger Limitation:  To prevent distractions, a number of states place limits on the number of passengers, especially of the same age group, that intermediate license holders can have in their vehicle.
  • Zero Alcohol Tolerance:  All states maintain a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving. Intermediate license holders found to have any trace of alcohol in their system will face penalties, which can include license suspension.
  • Cell Phone and Texting Ban:  Many states have laws that prohibit intermediate license holders from using cell phones or texting while driving.
  • Mandatory Seat Belt Use:  All occupants of the vehicle must wear seat belts in most states.

It’s important to note that violations of these restrictions can result in a delay in progressing to the full license stage or even suspension of the intermediate license.

Young man showing his drivers license: Driving age by state and GDL programs

What Can You Do With a Regular Driver License?

A regular driver’s license, the final stage of the GDL program, grants unrestricted driving privileges to its holder. This license allows individuals to operate a vehicle at any time of the day, without any passenger limits, and without the need for a supervising adult.

However, even with a regular license, it’s important to remember that all traffic laws, such as obeying speed limits, signal and stop sign rules, and no-texting-while-driving laws, must still be adhered to. It’s also crucial to note that while a regular license allows for increased freedom, it also comes with increased responsibility.

As a fully licensed driver, you are expected to prioritize safety, respect other road users, and be accountable for your actions on the road. All states maintain stringent laws against impaired driving, reckless driving, and other dangerous behaviors, and violations can result in fines, license suspension, or even jail time.

Summary Regarding Driving Age by State in the United States

The driving age and process to acquire a driver’s license vary by each state in the United States. Each involves following their Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program, which includes phases such as a learner’s permit, an intermediate license, and finally a regular driver’s license. These stages come with certain restrictions and requirements, all designed to gradually prepare new drivers for the responsibilities that come with operating a vehicle.

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