California Driver's Ed

Written by Michael Purser

If you are between the ages of 15 1/2 and 17 1/2, you must complete an approved California drivers ed program before you get your provisional instruction (learner's) permit. The instruction permit lets you get behind the wheel to practice driving before you obtain your full license.

Start your journey with a DMV-approved online drivers education course. But first, learn more about drivers ed requirements, the graduated license (GDL) program and resources available to new motorists in the Golden State.

Then, we'll help you find online California drivers ed courses so you can get on the road as soon as possible.

Getting Your First License

To get your first license, you need to fulfill a strict set of steps, including a lot of paperwork. Teens who are just learning to operate a motor vehicle must complete a few extra steps as part of the GDL program. The additional restrictions keep you safe while you master traffic laws and gain experience on California's public roads.

The Knowledge Test

Everyone must pass the knowledge test before applying for any kind of permit or license in the Golden State.

The exam contains multiple-choice questions drawn from the California Driver's Handbook. You must get an 80% score or better to pass the test.

Instruction Permit

You must obtain an instruction permit if you've never had a driver's license before. That rule applies whether you are 16 or 60.

If you are under 18, you will get a provisional instruction permit. You can only apply to receive one after you complete a mandatory driver education course. Once you get yours, you can start building experience under very specific circumstances.

You can practice with:

  • A licensed parent or guardian
  • A licensed California adult who is at least 25 years old
  • A certified instructor

That's it. You aren't allowed to travel with any other passengers or by yourself for any reason.

Regardless of age, you must practice for at least six months. Minors must log at least 50 practice hours behind the wheel in that time, including at least 10 hours of night driving.

If you are under 18, you can then apply for your provisional license.

Provisional License

To get your provisional license, you must complete driving school, finish behind-the-wheel training and log the required number of practice hours with your permit. Once you fulfill all the requirements, you can schedule your road test.

The hands-on test will assess your skills as a motorist. Pass, and you will be rewarded with a provisional license. This marks the end of your education, but you still have to observe a few important restrictions.

For the first 12 months, minors cannot:

  • Operate a motor vehicle after 11 p.m. or before 5 a.m.
  • Transport passengers under 20 years old unless driving with a licensed:
    • Parent or guardian
    • Adult who is at least 25 years old
    • Certified driving instructor
  • Use any form of electronic device, including hands-free devices, except to call for emergency services

If you earn two or more Negligent Operator Treatment System (NOTS) points during your probationary period, you will face sanctions that will delay your graduation to a full license.

Basic License

After proving you're knowledgeable, safe and skilled, you can finally apply for your basic driver license. From now on, you can drive whenever and with whomever you want.

Education Requirements

In California, students are required to complete DMV-approved driver education (DE) and driver training (DT). This requirement applies for any prospective motorist between the ages of 15 1/2 and 17 1/2.


DE is the "book learning" portion of the learning process. The course teaches important traffic laws, your responsibilities as a motorist, the principles of road safety and how to avoid accidents.

To comply with California's driving school requirements, all DMV-approved courses must take at least 30 hours to complete. You can complete your course in school, with a third-party driving school or online. All courses, including online programs, must teach the required curriculum provided by the state.

An approved course will send you an official certificate of completion after you pass the program.


DT is the behind-the-wheel portion of your instruction. It's not just practice. Formal DT requires an approved instructor with special training vehicles with a second foot brake and a second rear-view mirror. You must complete six hours of instructor-supervised driving.

After finishing all six hours, your instructor will send you a certificate of completion. You will need both your DE and DT certificates to obtain your license.

Online Learning

Skip the classroom by training online. Online DE covers all the same topics as in-person classes. Instead of having your parents ferry you to your lessons or staying after school, you can learn online. SafeMotorist offers a DMV-approved drivers ed online course.

Our online DE course is available 24/7 from any device. We offer an easy-to-use web-based learning platform that lets you learn at your pace.

We even mail your official DMV certificate within 10 business days so you can apply for your instruction permit as fast as possible.

Other Online Courses

That isn't the only online DE class we offer! We provide several other online classes that will help you stay safe on the road.

Our California First Time Driver Drug and Alcohol class teaches young motorists about the dangers of driving under the influence. Teens who take a substance abuse training course are significantly less likely to get into an alcohol-related crash.

We also offer a Defensive Driving course that can help you dismiss a traffic ticket, protect your license from possible suspension and keep your insurance rates from skyrocketing. This program also teaches lifesaving driving habits that will protect you and other motorists from danger on the road.