We asked 200,590 job seekers about their Driver's License. This is what they told us:
- 47% of job seekers said "other" was the biggest reason for earning their Driver's License
- 77% said earning their Driver's License helped them make more money
- 80% said earning their Driver's License helped them get a job
- 96% said they would recommend a family member or friend earn their Driver's License
Driver's License Requirements, Reviews and More
Driver's licenses are required documentation to drive legally throughout the United States and are held by 85% of those who are old enough to obtain them.1 Driver's licenses are issued individually by each of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Automobile drivers are required to hold driver's licenses in the state in which they reside. That means if a driver moves from one state to another, they are legally required to obtain a new license in the state reflecting their legal residence.
Throughout the United States, people become eligible to apply for their driver's licenses when they turn 16 – though some states allow children as young as 14 to apply for their learner's permits to practice driving with a licensed adult While individual documentation requirements and fees vary slightly from state to state, the general requirements for obtaining a driver's license remain the same throughout the United States: Provide documentation proving identity and residency and take written and road test to prove driver competency. The cost of obtaining a non-commercial driver's license ranges from $0-100.
Types of driver's licenses
The types of driver's licenses are consistent across all 50 states, according to federal transportation guidelines.2 While separate commercial driver's licenses are required for those who plan to drive for pay, the types of driver's licenses are consistent for both commercial and non-commercial drivers. The types of driver's licenses are:
A Class A driver's license is required for anyone who plans to drive any combination of vehicles with a combined weight of 11,794 kilograms or to tow a vehicle that weighs more than 4,536 kilograms. Class A driver's licenses enable operators to drive tractor trailers, flatbeds and livestock carriers. Additional endorsements can be added for tank vehicles, multiple trailers and vehicles containing hazardous materials.
A Class B driver's license allows for the legal operation of a single vehicle that has a gross weight of more than 11,794 kilograms, or any such vehicle that is towing something that weighs less than 4,536.
A Class C license is required for drivers who plan to operate a single vehicle that does not fit under the Class A or Class B guidelines and is designed to carry 16 or more people, including the driver, or that is used to transport hazardous materials as defined by the federal government's hazardous materials regulations.
A Class D or Class E driver's license is a standard, non-commercial driver's license, typically referred to as a private passenger license. Most states classify their general-issue driver's licenses as Class D or Class E.
Class M licenses are administered to those who plan to operate motorcycles.
Class V driver's licenses are required by those who plan to legal operate water vessels.
In 2005, U.S. Congress passed the REAL ID act to standardize the requirements for photo identification across the United States. Beginning in October of 2020, U.S. citizens will not be able to board a domestic airline flight without a REAL ID.3
Some states have replaced their tradition driver's licenses with REAL ID and are only issuing REAL ID-compliant documents. Others have an opt-in program that allows residents to choose between traditional driver's licenses, identification cards and REAL ID documents. Applicants who are seeking REAL ID driver's licenses must appear in person at their local driver's license issuance office and present documentation that proves their legal name, date of birth, Social Security number, legal address and legal status.4 The applicant must provide one document off of the Primary Document list and two documents from the Secondary Document; list. All documents must be originals to be accepted for REAL ID.
Accepted primary documents include:
- A U.S. birth certificate that was issued by an agency designated by state or federal authority
- An unexpired U.S. passport
- A valid, unexpired state-issued driver's license or identification card
- Certificate of naturalization
- Certificate of U.S. citizenship
- United States-issued certificate of birth abroad
- Resident alien card
- A valid foreign passport with valid supporting U.S. immigration documentation proving legal status in the United States
Accepted secondary documents include:
- A valid, state-issued driver's license or identification card
- An unexpired driver's license or permit issued by a foreign country
- U.S. Armed Forces driver's license
- U.S. military DD-214
- A professional license issued by a state or federal agency within the United States
- Selective Service card
- Veterans Administration card
- Current medical insurance identification card
- U.S. military identification card
- A school-issued identification card that includes a current photo
- School enrollment form DL-1/93
- A certified letter from the applicant's school
- GED certificate
- Graduation diploma
- A W-2 accompanied by a copy of the previous year's filed tax return
- Divorce decree
- Adoption decree
- Bankruptcy decree
- State or federal probation records or release documents with photo identification card issued by the corresponding department of corrections
- County-issued felon identification card issued by the sheriff of the county
To obtain a REAL ID driver's license, applicants must have a current state-issued driver's license or state identification card, or they must undergo the process for obtaining a driver's license. Note that if the applicant's name has changed from any of the provided documents, the applicant also must present documentation that proves the name change, such as a marriage license, divorce decree or adoption records.
Obtaining a Driver's License for new drivers
All states follow the same format for issuing driver's licenses. In all U.S. states, drivers must be at least 16 years old of age.. For first-time drivers, the process of obtaining a driver's license is:
- Prove identity and residency
The first step in obtaining a driver's license for anyone is to prove identity and residency. All states require the presentation of some form of photo identification, birth certificate, passport or other legal document to prove your identity. States also require proof of a Social Security number, which can be presented with a Social Security card or tax form, and proof of residency in the form of a bill, bank statement, deed, lease or insurance policy listing the applicant's address. Many states allow driver's license applicants under the age of 18 to use valid school documents.
- Obtain a learner's permit
All states require that new drivers pass a written test to obtain a learner's permit.5 Learner's permits must then be held for a specific amount of time, generally between 6 and 12 months. While all states require that drivers are at least 16 years of age to obtain a license, many states allow drivers to obtain a learner's permit before their 16th birthday –anywhere between the ages of 14 to 15 ½.
- Practice driving under supervision
During the learner's permit period, nearly all states require that new drivers log a certain amount of driving time with a licensed adult driver. Required driving time ranges from 20 to 70 hours by state and most states require that some of those hours be logged during nighttime hours. Some cold-weather states also require that some of those logged hours occur during inclement weather.
- Pass a road test
All new drivers are required to pass a road test with a state-certified administrator at a state testing facility. During the test, drivers must prove their competency and knowledge of state driving laws.
- Pass a vision test
All states require that you pass a vision test to obtain a driver's license. Some states also require hearing tests.
In a handful of states, additional tests or courses on the dangers of drugs and alcohol also are required. Some states require these for minor drivers, while others require that the test is taken by minor drivers renewing the provisional licenses awarded to teenagers to an unrestricted, adult license at the age of 21.
Drivers who already have driver's licenses issued by other states or other countries generally do not have to go through the process of obtaining a new driver's license and instead can take steps to transfer their old license to a license issued by their new state of residence.
Obtaining a Driver's License in a new state
If you hold a driver's license in one state and relocate permanently to another, you will have to obtain a new driver's license in your new state of residence. Most states require that new residents who are driving within the state obtain a new state-issued driver's license within 30 to 90 days. To obtain a driver's license in a new state, applicants must:
- Present a current, unexpired driver's license from another state. The previous driver's license must be surrendered when the new license is issued. States will not issue driver's licenses to drivers whose existing license from another state has been suspended.
- Provide the state-required documentation providing identity, Social Security status and legal residency within the state by providing a bill, loan document, bank statement or utility bill with the new residential address. If the state issues only a REAL ID, or if the applicant wishes to apply for a REAL ID driver's license, the presented documentation will have to comply with the federal guidelines for REAL ID applications.
- Pass a vision test. All states require vision tests for driver's licenses, even if the applicant already holds a driver's license from another state.
- Pass a written test. Some states require that drivers transferring a license from a previous state of residence pass a written test demonstrating competency of the state's driving laws. If the applicant's previous driver's license has expired, a written test is likely.
If a driver holds an expired license from a previous state of residence, they will sometimes be granted permission to obtain a new license by presenting their expired license and taking a written exam. When the license has been expired for an extended period of time – generally for two years or more – states will require that the driver begins the licensing process over again and takes both the written and road tests to earn a new driver's license.
Obtaining a Driver's License in your state
Those who are looking to apply for a new driver's license or transfer an existing driver's license to a new state are encouraged to visit their state's website to verify the requirements of obtaining a driver's license. While state requirements are nearly standard across the board for renewal licenses or for transferring driver's licenses from a previous state, states may differ slightly in terms of the documentation or testing they require and some states require driver's license applicants to make appointments to visit a driver licensing office. However, those looking to apply for REAL ID driver's licenses will find standard documentation requirements as provided by the federal government.
Applicants also may find some online applications and forms to save time when applying for their driver's license. First-time driver's license applicants can find more information on testing and on specific training requirements via their state's website.
Information for individual state driver's licenses can be found through their respective page:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
How Many Licensed Drivers are There in the US? Hedges Company. Retrieved November 2019.
Types of Driver's Licenses. AAA Digest of Motor Laws. Retrieved November 2019.
REAL ID. Homeland Security. Retrieved November 2019.
Real ID FAQ. Homeland Security. Retrieved November 2019.
Graduated licensing laws. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute. Retrieved November 2019.
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