Driving Age by State

What You Need to Know for Your Teen to Safely and Legally Drive

The minimum driving age in each state varies.
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Age requirement for learner's permit
Verywell / Jessica Olah 

Getting a driver's license is a rite of passage for many teenagers. But sadly, car crashes are the number one cause of death for young people.

Many scientists argue that 16-year-olds just aren't mature enough to drive. Their brains aren't yet fully developed and they're more likely to take risks, become distracted, and make mistakes.

As a way to help teens slowly gain driving responsibilities one step at a time, states adopted graduated license programs. These programs have restrictions for newly licensed drivers, such as a limit on the number of passengers or a curfew.

A 2017 study found that graduated license programs have been instrumental in reducing car crashes among 16 and 17-year-olds. In fact, it's been so successful that some states are considering adopting graduated license programs for 18 to 20-year-olds who are becoming first-time drivers. 

Each state in the United States establishes their own driving laws, including laws about the age at which teens can begin driving, and the rules vary greatly about graduated license requirements. 

Driving Age by State

The age at which teens may obtain their learner's permit and the laws about graduated licenses vary by state. Be sure to check your local laws to find out when your teen can begin driving.

State Learner's Permit Restricted License Full License
Alabama 15 16 17
Alaska 14 16 16, 6 mos.
Arizona 15, 6 mos. 16 16, 6 mos.
Arkansas 14 16 18
California 15, 6 mos. 16 17
Colorado 15 16 17
Connecticut 16 16, 4 mos. 18
Delaware 16 16, 6 mos. 17
District of Columbia 16 16, 6 mos. 18
Florida 15 16 18
Georgia 15 16 18
Hawaii 15, 6 mos. 16 17
Idaho 14, 6 mos. 15 16
Illinois 15 16 18
Indiana 15. 16, 6 mos. 18
Iowa 14 16 17
Kansas 14 16 16, 6 mos.
Kentucky 16 16, 6 mos. 17
Louisiana 15 16 17
Maine 15 16 16, 9 mos.
Maryland 15, 9 mos. 16, 6 mos. 18
Massachusetts 16 16, 6 mos. 18
Michigan 14, 9 mos. 16 17
Minnesota 15 16 17
Mississippi 15 16 16, 6 mos.
Missouri 15 16 18
Montana 14, 6 mos. 15 16
Nebraska 15 16 17
Nevada 15, 6 mos. 16 18
New Hampshire 15, 6 mos. 16 18
New Jersey 16 17 18
New Mexico 15 15, 6 mos. 16, 6 mos.
New York 16 16, 6 mos. 17 w/classes or 18
North Carolina 15 16 16, 6 mos.
North Dakota 14 15 16
Ohio 15, 6 mos. 16 18
Oklahoma 15, 6 mos. 16 16, 6 mos.
Oregon 15 16 17
Pennsylvania 16 16, 6 mos. 17 with classes or 18
Rhode Island 16 16, 6 mos. 17, 6 mos.
South Carolina 15 15, 6 mos. 16, 6 mos.
South Dakota 14 14, 6 mos. 16
Tennessee 15 16 17
Texas 15 16 18
Utah 15 16 17
Vermont 15 16 16, 6 mos.
Virginia 15, 6 mos. 16, 3 mos. 18
Washington 15 16 17
West Virginia 15 16 17
Wisconsin 15, 6 mos. 16 16, 9 mos.
Wyoming 15 16 16, 6 mos.

Learning with a Learner's Permit

Research shows many parents aren't good at teaching kids to become safe drivers. Instead, they depend too much on driver's education programs.

Once your teen has a learner's permit, don't think of yourself as a passenger when your teen is behind the wheel. Think of yourself as a teacher.

Help your teen learn to recognize potential safety issues while driving. Give instructions to help your teen improve and provide plenty of constructive feedback.

Each state has different laws about learner's permits and how many hours a teen needs to be behind the wheel. Take those laws seriously and make sure you're helping your teen gain the experience they need to become a safe driver.

Night Driving Restrictions

While a lack of sleep impairs everyone's performance, studies show sleep deprivation takes the most serious toll on teens. Teens are more likely to make errors when driving later into the evening.

Approximately two out of five teen car crashes occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. , so many states have enacted curfews to prevent teens from driving during the overnight hours. For example, Alabama doesn't allow newly licensed teens to drive between midnight and 6 a.m., North Carolina doesn't allow teens to drive between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Passenger Restrictions

Researchers have found that for each passenger a teen has in the car, the risk of a car crash increases. Friends can serve as a serious distraction and they may encourage your teen to take unnecessary risks. Consequently, many states have decided to restrict passengers in cars driven by teens.

While some states don't allow newly licensed teens to have passengers for several months, others restrict the number of minor passengers that can be in a car. Exceptions are usually made for siblings. 

Cellphone Restrictions

Talking on the phone while driving serves as a major distraction that increases the likelihood a teen will make driving mistakes. So many states have adopted specific cellphone restrictions for young drivers.

Unfortunately, some studies show cellphone restrictions may actually increase the chances that a teen will attempt to send text messages while behind the wheel. In an attempt to conceal cellphone use, teens may become even more distracted by trying to type messages on the sly.

So it's important for parents to talk to teens about the risks of distracted driving. And if a teen is caught sending messages or using a cellphone while driving, there should be clear consequences. 

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to letting your teen drive, don't depend on your state laws to keep your child safe. Create your own rules and restrictions for your teen's specific needs.

Keep in mind that just because your teen is old enough to drive legally, it doesn't mean they're mature enough to handle the responsibility. 

If your 16-year-old is aggressive, impulsive, or irresponsible, don't let them behind the wheel just yet. In order to be safe drivers, teens need to be able to think clearly, make good decisions, and resist temptations.

Once your teen has a driver's license, increase their freedom slowly. Remember, you don't have to grant new privileges just because the graduated licensing laws allow him to drive at night or use a cellphone in the car. You can continue to impose restrictions of your own.

If your teen violates the law or breaks your rules, give them consequences. Take away their keys for a while or restrict the hours or places your teen drives.

And consider enrolling your teen in programs that teach driver safety beyond driver's education. You might get a discount on car insurance, but more importantly, additional driver training could save your teen's life.

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Article Sources

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