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Last update:
  24-Mar-00
1996-2004
  Mike Todd

Learning to Drive in the US

The minimum age for driving varies from state to state. It's usually around 17 years, but if a teenager has completed a Drivers Ed course at school, they can drive at an earlier age. In some rural areas, children can drive at very young ages, but they're limited to driving on "farm roads". These aren't roads within a farm, but are roads designated as "farm roads".

In the table, the minimum age for driving is given - a second figure is the age at which you can drive having completed a Drivers Ed course. As with everything on this site, this is just for general information If you're a teenager and you do plan to drive, you must check the local details. Don't rely on this information!!
Alabama   16
Alaska   16
Arizona   16
Arkansas   16
California   18/16
Colorado   18
Connecticut   18/16
Delaware   18/16
DC   18
Florida   16
Georgia   16
Hawaii   15
Idaho   17
Illinois   18/16
Indiana   18/16
Iowa   18/16
Kansas   16
Kentucky   16
Louisiana   17/15
Maine   17/16
Maryland   18/16
Massachusetts   18/17
Michigan   18/16
Minnesota   18/16
Mississippi   15
Missouri   16
Montana   16/15
Nebraska   19
Nevada   16
N Hampshire   18/16
New Jersey   17
New Mexico   16/15
New York   18/17
N Carolina   18/16
N Dakota   16
Ohio   18/16
Oklahoma   16
Oregon   16
Pennsylvania   18/17
Rhode Island   18/16
S Carolina   16
S Dakota   16
Tennessee   16
Texas   18/16
Utah   16
Vermont   18
Virginia   18/16
Washington   18/16
W Virginia   18/16
Wisconsin   18/16
Wyoming   16

For the past couple of years, many states have been changing the way they handle the early years of driving, aware of the very high rate of accidents caused by teenage drivers. A 16-year-old is five times more likely to cause a crash than am 18-year-old, and twice as likely as an 85-year-old. To help reduce the problem, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has introduced a Graduate Driver Licensing System. In essence, this is a three-phase driving licence:

Learner's permit
At the state's minimum age, the learner's permit requires completion of vehicle skills training and tests of vision and rules-of-the-road. There must be absolutely no alcohol while driving, and a fully-licenced adult (over 21) must be in the car at all times. In addition, a record must be kept of teh number of practice hours.

Provisional licence
After at least six months of being conviction- and crash-free, and on completion of an advanced driver's education course (plus a practical on-road test), the driver can then get a provisional licence. This allows unsupervised daytime driving, but nighttime driving must be with a licenced adult, and supervised practice must be continued.

Full licence
After at least 12 months of conviction- and crash-free driving, a full licence can be issued (subject to the state's minimum-age rules).

The eleven states highlighted above have matched (or exceeded) this minimum specification, thirteen others have introduced a partial graduated system, and all are seeing a useful reduction in accidents. Oregon, for instance, with only a partial introduction of the scheme, has seen a 16% reduction in accidents in the 16-17 age group.