Most teens can’t wait to get their driver’s license. A driver’s license is a step toward independence and opens up lots of possibilities, including employment and recreational opportunities that otherwise might not be available.
Teen driving laws differ significantly by state. But most states, at a minimum, comply with the federal recommendations contained in the “Safe Teen and Novice Driver Protection” (STANDUP) Act that, if not followed, could result in loss of federal funds.
Here are some of the most common requirements for teens who seek to obtain a license and restrictions that apply to teen drivers.
The STANDUP act requires that a driver be at least 16 years old and pass a written and vision test prior to obtaining an instruction permit (also called a “learner’s permit”). Almost all state requirements are congruent with these minimum guidelines.
With a learner’s permit, a teen driver can operate a vehicle only while supervised by a licensed adult who’s at least 21 years old. Permit holders are also generally prohibited from cellphone use while driving and transporting more than one non-family-member passenger.
The next step for teens seeking full driving privileges is to obtain an intermediate license (also called a “graduated license” or “provisional license”). In order to advance to the intermediate license, the teen must pass a behind-the-wheel skills test. Also, prior to taking the skills test, the permit holder must generally complete either 50 hours of logged practice driving (including a certain number of nighttime hours) or a certified driver’s education course.
STANDUP recommendations require a driver to be at least 16 years old to take the skills test.
With an intermediate license, a teen driver can operate a vehicle without adult supervision but is subject to certain restrictions. Intermediate license restrictions vary by state but often include:
Violations of any of these restrictions can typically lead to loss of driving privileges and a delay in obtaining an unrestricted license.
Teen drivers are often subject to more severe penalties than older drivers for traffic violations. For example, certain violations that carry only fines for older drivers can result in license suspension for intermediate license holders.
In most states, once a teen turns 17 years old or has held an intermediate license for a year, the intermediate restrictions are removed and an unrestricted license will be issued. However, traffic and restriction violations can delay the issuance of an unrestricted license.
Many states also have special teen driving permits for select reasons. For example, at 14 years old, a Kansas teen can obtain a farm permit to drive unsupervised between the farm, home, and school. Other states allow teens under 16 years old to drive to school if there are no other transportation options are available.
While almost every state requires drivers to have car insurance, there are no federal auto insurance mandates. Each state is a little different, but generally, all drivers—including teens—must have coverage of at least:
Some states require Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage and some allow alternatives to standard insurance.