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Keeping Your Driver's License

Getting your driver’s license

The process of getting a first-time driver’s license is an important milestone. For many, it marks a “rite of passage,” and is considered an important first step toward achieving independence and becoming a young adult.

Driving is not a “right” guaranteed by the constitution or laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Driving is a “privilege” that is granted by parents to their children. If abused, the privilege may be revoked or taken away. It is important that you know and obey the rules of the road and that you become a safe and responsible driver in sharing the roadway with other motorists.

Driving is a complex task, even for the most seasoned drivers. For young drivers, it is especially difficult and can be lethal. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for persons between the ages of 15 and 20.

When can I get a learner's permit?

Anyone who is at least 15 years and six months of age may apply to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for a learner’s permit. You will be required to take a knowledge and vision test. A learner’s permit is required if you are learning to drive on public roads. A learner’s permit allows you to operate a motor vehicle when a licensed driver of at least 21 years of age is seated beside you. The driver accompanying you may be 18 years of age if he or she is your legal guardian, brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, step-brother, or step-sister. The driver accompanying you must hold a valid driver’s license.

When you first apply for a learner’s permit, you will also complete the application process for a driver’s license. You will pay the fees for both the permit and the license.

What happens if I don't pass the knowledge test?

Anyone who fails the knowledge test three times must take and successfully complete the classroom portion of a driver education course before being allowed to retake the knowledge test at the DMV. Documentation of successful completion must be provided to the DMV before being allowed to retake the test.

What are the requirements for getting a driver's license?

If you are a Virginia resident under age 19, you must complete a state-approved driver education program and hold your Virginia learner’s permit for at least nine months in order to obtain a driver’s license.

Where can I find a driver education program?

Driver education programs are available statewide through public schools, private schools, and commercial driver training schools. The program must include 36 classroom periods and 14 in-car instruction periods – seven periods of driving and seven periods of observation. Classroom instruction must include components about alcohol safety, drug abuse awareness, motorcycle awareness, and organ and tissue donation awareness. A list of approved correspondence courses can be found on the DMV web site. You will receive a certificate when you complete all of the driver education requirements.

How will the DMV know that I have completed the requirements for driver education?

When you complete the driver education requirements, the instructor will submit a certificate of completion to the DMV. This certificate will include your parent/guardian’s signature and the driver’s license or identification card number that was issued to you when you obtained your learner’s permit.

If you are under the age of 18, your parent, guardian, or foster parent must certify that you have driven for at least 45 hours and that at least 15 of the 45 hours were completed after sunset.

When can I drive by myself without a licensed driver beside me?

If you are between age 16 years, three months, and age 18, your driver education certificate and a valid learner’s permit allow you to drive without a licensed driver beside you, provided that you have held your learner’s permit for at least nine months and the certificate is signed by a parent or legal guardian.

Do I have to take a road test at the DMV?

If you complete a required state-approved driver education program, you will not be required to take a road skills test at the DMV to get your driver’s license. The in-car driver education instructor will administer the final road test. If you pass the test, the school will issue a completion certificate. This certificate, combined with your learner’s permit, acts as a valid driver’s license for 180 days.

If I am 18 years old, do I have the same requirements as those under age 18?

If you are under the age of 19, you must hold a learner’s permit for at least nine months or until you turn age 19 before you can receive a driver’s license. You will receive a certificate when you complete a driver education program. You will not be required to take a road skills test at the DMV to get your driver’s license.

Are the driver education requirements the same for me if I am being home schooled?

If you are being home schooled, the classroom and/or the behind the wheel portions can be taught at home. Visit the DMV web site for sources of approved courses. You may also want to refer to the “Home-Schooled In-Car Driver Education Information Sheet,” HS-3, for specific information. This form may also be found on the DMV website.

A parent or legal guardian may provide in-car instruction to his or her own child, based on prior application and approval by the DMV. After completion, you must visit a DMV office and successfully complete the road skills test to obtain a driver’s license.

When will I get my official driver's license?

After you have held your permit for a period of nine months, turned age 16 and 3 months and have completed driver education, you will receive a notice telling you when to appear in court for a licensing ceremony during which you will receive your permanent driver’s license. You must be accompanied by a parent, custodial parent, or legal guardian when receiving a permanent first-time driver’s license.

Will there be restrictions on my license?

Yes. Virginia’s curfew laws prohibit drivers under age 18 who hold a learner’s permit or driver’s license from driving between midnight and 4:00 a.m. If you have a driver’s license, you may only drive during these hours:

  • in case of an emergency;

  • when traveling to and from work or a school-sponsored event;

  • when accompanied by a parent or other adult acting in place of a parent; and

  • when responding to an emergency call as a volunteer firefighter or rescue squad personnel.

In addition, there are passenger restrictions. If you are under age 18, you may carry only one passenger under the age of 21 during the first year that you hold your driver’s license unless a parent (who is a licensed driver) is in the seat beside you. After you have held your license for one year, you may carry only three passengers under age 21 until you reach age 18, except when you are driving to or from a school-sponsored activity, when a licensed driver who is at least 21 years old is in the seat beside you, or in cases of emergency. Passenger restrictions do not apply to family members.

It is important to know that violations of either the curfew or passenger restrictions can result in the suspension of your driver’s license.

Keeping a driver's license

What must I do to keep my driver's license?

You must obey motor vehicle laws, stay out of trouble, and attend school regularly.

Obey motor vehicle laws. Certain traffic offenses are punishable by fines, license suspension or revocation, possible jail time, and/or points against your driving record. When you receive convictions for traffic offenses, the courts communicate with the DMV. The DMV then assigns points and posts the conviction(s) to your driver record.

Stay out of trouble. When a juvenile is found to be delinquent, a judge may impose a wide range of dispositions, including suspending the driver’s license or imposing a curfew on the juvenile as to the hours during which he or she may operate a motor vehicle. (Code of Virginia § 16.1-278.8) In addition, a juvenile may lose driving privileges for alcohol, drug, and firearm offenses. (Code of Virginia § 16.1-278.9)

Attend school. Code of Virginia § 46.2-323 provides for the suspension of the driver’s license of anyone under 18 years of age who has 10 or more unexcused absences from public school on consecutive school days.

What are demerit points? How do they affect me as a teen driver?

Demerit points are the way that the DMV keeps up with moving violations. Points are recorded against your driving record whenever you are convicted of not obeying the law in a moving vehicle. For example, a first violation of the passenger and curfew-restrictions will result in three demerit points. A second or third violation may result in the court suspending your driving privileges for up to six months.

What are the other consequences for demerit points?

Drivers under age 19 receiving a demerit point conviction (including safety belt or child restraint violations) will be required to attend a driver improvement clinic. If you are under age 19 and receive a second conviction, the dMV will suspend your driving privilege for 90 days. After the third demerit point conviction received while less than 18 years old, the DMV will revoke your permit or license for one year or until you reach age 18, whichever is longer.

I've heard about “Zero Tolerance.”What does that mean for me?

Virginia has enacted some of the toughest laws in the United States for minors caught driving under the influence of alcohol. Under Code of Virginia, § 18.2-266.1, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to operate a motor vehicle after illegally consuming alcohol or drugs. A violation of this law is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Punishment includes loss of your driver’s license for one year from the date of conviction and a mandatory minimum fine of $500 or having to perform a minimum of 50 hours of community service.

What does implied consent mean?

Under Code of Virginia § 18.2-268.2, if you operate a motor vehicle, you automatically consent to have samples of your blood and/or breath taken for a chemical test to determine the level of alcohol or drugs in your blood. This applies if you have been arrested for a violation of driving while intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Code of Virginia § 18.2-268.3 prescribes the penalties for refusing to take the test. For a first offense, you may lose your privilege to drive for a period of one year. Additional offenses result in substantially stronger penalties.

Can my parents take away my privilege to drive?

Yes. Your parents granted you the privilege to obtain a learner’s permit or a driver’s license and to drive on Virginia’s highways. They can also take away the privilege. If you are under the age of 18, your parents can choose to cancel your learner’s permit or driver’s license by simply submitting form DL 18, “Cancellation of Minor’s Driving Privilege.” Once it is cancelled, neither you nor your parents will be able to reapply for at least six months.

What about cell phones? Can I use one while driving?

No. Virginia’s cellular telephone law (Code of Virginia § 46.2-334.01) restricts a driver under age 18, who holds a learner’s permit or driver’s license, from using any cellular telephone or any other wireless communications device, regardless of whether such device is or is not hand-held. Text messaging while driving is also prohibited by Code of Virginia § 46.2-1078.1. You can use a cell phone or any other telecommunications device only:

  • for a driver emergency; and

  • when the vehicle is lawfully parked or stopped.

A violation of any provision of this section constitutes a traffic infraction punishable, for a first offense, by a fine of $125 and, for a second or subsequent offense, by a fine of $250.

What should I do if a law enforcement officer stops me while I am driving?

Law enforcement officers are charged with enforcing the law and protecting the safety of the public. You should always show respect for law enforcement officials.

If signaled to pull over, stop at the first safe place you come upon. If you must travel a short distance to get to such a place, use your directional signal to show the officer that you see his or her signal and intend to pull over.

Carefully follow the officer’s instructions. Do not get out of the car unless told to do so. Be prepared to show your driver’s license and vehicle registration.

If you have violated a traffic law, you will be told. With most violations, drivers receive a summons to appear in traffic court. In cases involving serious violations, the officer may arrest the driver.

Why is all of this important to me?

It is vitally important to know about the driving laws and regulations in Virginia. It is equally important that you become a safe and responsible driver to keep your learner’s permit or driver’s license. Remember: driving is a privilege. If abused, the privilege may be taken away.

What are some good driving tips for me?

  • Buckle up! Make sure you always wear your seat belt and everyone else in the vehicle is buckled up. This is your best defense against anything that might go wrong on the road. Facts: (1) air bags are made to work with safety belts, and (2) most crashes happen close to home. Buckle up for every trip, regardless of the distance to be traveled.

  • Get enough sleep! Teens need more sleep than younger children and adults. Teens need at least nine hours of sleep every night. Most teens are sleep deprived and get less than seven hours of sleep each night. With school, homework, jobs, sports, and social activities, sleeping for nine hours may be a challenge, but sleep allows you to stay alert while driving.

  • If you are a teen with a motorcycle, take motorcycle safety training and always wear your safety gear. Motorcycle helmets are required to be used in Virginia.

  • Always drive sober. Not only are alcohol and drugs illegal, they can slow your reaction time and distort reality. They can also make you believe you’re a great driver. Regardless of your age, never drink and drive.

  • Only ride with sober drivers. If you’re riding with a driver who has been drinking or doing drugs, your life is in danger. Many of the teenagers who die in car crashes are passengers.

  • Single vehicle crashes are the most common type involving teens. Speed, lack of seat belt use, inexperience, and alcohol use are often contributing factors to deaths and serious injuries in these crashes.

  • Parents and caregivers play a big role in teen driver safety from the beginning. It is important that they take their teen out to practice driving skills and to set clear ground rules. It is equally important that they be good role models by using their seat belts, obeying speed limits, and not driving aggressively.

  • Always drive with your headlights on. You want to see and be seen.

  • Don’t tailgate. Try to keep four seconds of following distance between your car and the vehicle in front of you.

  • Focus on your driving. Don’t blast the music, talk on the phone, eat, study, or put on makeup while driving.

  • Follow the restrictions on passenger numbers and don’t load your car with too many friends. Focus on your driving, and resist distractions and peer pressure.

  • Don't get stressed out. Pretend everyone else on the road is a close, personal friend.

  • Check the rearview mirror before and after you brake, every time.

  • Follow traffic safety rules, and don't drive faster than the speed limit. Watch your speed!

Additional Information

About Driver Licensing
Visit the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles web site for the Virginia Driver's Manual and specific instruction on:

Drinking and Driving

Driver Education Requirements

Teen Driving

Educational Resources
Visit the Virginia Department of Education's Driver Education Resources