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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Getting a driver's license is a rite of passage for 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. 

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 feedback—both positive and negative.

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 he needs 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 2 out of 5 teen car crashes occur between 9 PM and 6 AM, so many states have enacted curfews to prevent teens from driving during the overnight hours. Restrictions on night driving may reduce teen car crashes by 19 percent.

Each state determines what hours to restrict teens from driving. So while Alabama doesn't allow newly licensed teens to drive between midnight and 6 AM, North Carolina doesn't allow them to drive between 9 PM and 5 AM.

Passenger Restrictions

Each passenger a teen has in the car increases the chances of a car crash. 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. 

Driving Age by State

The age at which teens may obtain their learner's permit and the laws about graduated licenses vary by state.

So make sure to check on your local laws to find out when your teen can begin driving.

StateLearner's PermitRestricted LicenseFull License
Alabama151617
Alaska141616, 6 mos.
Arizona15, 6 mos.1616, 6 mos.
Arkansas141616, 6 mos.
California15, 6 mos.1617
Colorado151617
Connecticut1616, 4 mos.18
Delaware1616, 6 mos.17
District of Columbia1616, 6 mos.18
Florida151618
Georgia151618
Hawaii15, 6 mos.1617
Idaho14, 6 mos.1516
Illinois151618
Indiana15.16, 6 mos.18
Iowa141617
Kansas141616, 6 mos.
Kentucky1616, 6 mos.17
Louisiana151617
Maine151616, 6 mos.
Maryland15, 9 mos.16, 6 mos.18
Massachusetts1616, 6 mos.18
Michigan14, 9 mos.1617
Minnesota151616, 6 mos.
Mississippi151616, 6 mos.
Missouri151618
Montana14, 6 mos.1516
Nebraska151617
Nevada15, 6 mos.1618
New Hampshire15, 6 mos.1617, 1 mo.
New Jersey161718
New Mexico1515, 6 mos.16, 6 mos.
New York1616, 6 mos.17 w/classes or 18
North Carolina151616, 6 mos.
North Dakota141516
Ohio15, 6 mos.1618
Oklahoma15, 6 mos.1616, 6 mos. 
Oregon151617
Pennsylvania1616, 6 mos.17 with classes or 18
Rhode Island1616, 6 mos.17, 6 mos.
South Carolina1515, 6 mos.16, 6 mos.
South Dakota1414, 6 mos.16
Tennessee151617
Texas151618
Utah151617
Vermont151616, 6 mos.
Virginia15, 6 mos.16, 3 mos.18
Washington151617
West Virginia151617
Wisconsin15, 6 mos.1616, 9 mos.
Wyoming151616, 6 mos.

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 she's mature enough to handle the responsibility. 

If your 16-year-old is aggressive, impulsive, or irresponsible, don't let him behind the wheel. 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 her freedom slowly. Remember, that 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 him consequences. Take away his 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.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Teen Drivers: Get the Facts.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: Consumer Safety Brochures.

Williams AF. Graduated driver licensing (GDL) in the United States in 2016: A literature review and commentaryJournal of Safety Research. August 2017.

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