How many hours of drivers ed is required in California?

In California, the minimum number of hours of driver’s education required to get a driver’s license for teenagers is 30 hours of classroom instruction and 6 hours of behind-the-wheel training.

Classroom Instruction

The 30 hours of classroom instruction in California covers various topics related to driving laws, safety, and good driving practices. Some of the key things covered in the 30 hours include:

  • Traffic laws – Understanding traffic signs, signals, lane markings, speed limits, right-of-way rules, etc.
  • Safe driving techniques – Basic vehicle control, maintaining space around the vehicle, scanning for hazards, adjusting for weather/road conditions, etc.
  • Driver responsibility – Being alert and avoiding distractions, not driving impaired, following traffic laws, being courteous to other road users, etc.
  • Sharing the road – Interacting with other vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, large trucks, emergency vehicles, etc.
  • Defensive driving – Anticipating and adjusting for possible hazards and the actions of other drivers.
  • Parallel parking – Safely parking midblock and on a hill.
  • Environmental impacts – Understanding vehicle emissions and driving in an eco-friendly way.
  • Vehicle maintenance – Checking fluid levels, tire pressure, lights, understanding dashboard warning symbols, etc.
  • Emergency preparedness – Changing a tire, jump-starting a dead battery, managing a breakdown or crash scene, etc.

The classroom instruction uses a mixture of lectures, discussions, videos, simulations, and quizzes/tests to educate students on all these topics. The course curriculum and materials are set by the state of California.

Behind-the-Wheel Training

In addition to the classroom instruction, California requires 6 hours of behind-the-wheel training with a licensed driving instructor before getting a license. This hands-on training covers:

  • Basic vehicle controls – Turn signals, lights, windshield wipers, steering, accelerating, braking, etc.
  • Backing up and parking – Safely backing up straight and around corners, parallel parking, perpendicuar parking, etc.
  • Starting and stopping – Smooth starts and stops, maintaining control of the vehicle.
  • Turning – Proper lane positioning, speed control, scanning, and signaling for turns.
  • Changing lanes – Checking mirrors and blind spots, signaling, smoothly changing lanes.
  • Merging – Judging gaps in traffic, matching vehicle speed, signaling, and merging smoothly.
  • Passing other vehicles – Legal passing zones, signaling, maintaining speed, moving back to lane.
  • Driving on the freeway – Entering, exiting, maintaining speed, lane discipline, scanning ahead.
  • Navigating intersections – Right-of-way, turning left across traffic, traffic signals, stop signs, etc.
  • Driving in traffic – Keeping pace with traffic flow, maintaining space around vehicle, managing distractions.
  • Recognizing and adjusting for hazards – Poor road conditions, limited visibility, distracted pedestrians, emergency vehicles, etc.

The behind-the-wheel lessons take place on a variety of roads from quiet neighborhoods to busy highways so students can practice driving skills in different environments.

Driver’s Ed Providers

In California, driver’s education is offered by various commercial driving schools, high school programs, and online courses. All providers must be licensed by the state to offer the approved 30/6 hours curriculum. Some options for completing driver’s ed include:

  • Commercial driving schools – Classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction at local driving school locations across California. Programs typically take 4-6 weeks.
  • High school driver’s ed – Many public high schools provide classroom driver’s training integrated into their curriculum. Students then get driving lessons from commercial schools.
  • Online driver’s ed – Students complete classroom portion online at their own pace. Behind-the-wheel training is then done locally with a commercial driving school.
  • Parent-taught driver’s ed – Parents can provide the behind-the-wheel training if the teen completes the classroom portion through an approved program.

The cost for driver’s education ranges from $200-600 depending on the type of program. Online and high school courses tend to be cheaper than commercial driving schools.

Getting a Learner’s Permit

In order to start behind-the-wheel driving lessons in California, students must be at least 15 years old and have a learner’s permit. To get a learner’s permit, the process requires:

  • Completing the classroom portion of an approved driver’s ed course or filling out an DL 400 form to certify driver education is not required.
  • Passing a vision exam at the DMV.
  • Passing the written knowledge tests on rules of the road, road signs, and traffic laws.
  • Providing proof of identity, social security number, residency status, and thumbprint.
  • Paying a $33 application fee.

The learner’s permit allows driving while accompanied by a licensed adult in the passenger seat. Learner’s permits are valid for 12 months, so teens need to complete their behind-the-wheel training and get their provisional license before it expires.

Getting a Provisional Driver’s License

After completing driver’s education and getting a learner’s permit, teenagers can get a provisional driver’s license in California at age 16. The steps include:

  • Completing the 6 hours of behind-the-wheel lessons with a licensed driving instructor.
  • Logging 50 hours of supervised driving practice with a parent or guardian, including 10 hours at night.
  • Having a learner’s permit for at least 6 months.
  • Passing the behind-the-wheel driving test administered by the DMV.

With a provisional license, 16-17 year olds can drive alone but have restrictions on night driving and passengers. After age 18, the license converts to a full unrestricted driver’s license.

Exceptions to Driver’s Ed Requirement

While most teenagers are required to complete driver’s education, there are some exceptions in California. The classroom and behind-the-wheel driver training is not required for:

  • Anyone aged 18 or older getting their first license.
  • Drivers transferring a valid out-of-state license to California.
  • Anyone converting an instruction permit to a restricted provisional or full license at age 17.5 or older.

In these cases, a person only needs to pass the required knowledge and driving tests given by the DMV to get a license without taking formal driver’s education.

How Many Hours of Driver’s Ed Are Required in Other States?

The number of hours of classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction required for a driver’s license varies across the United States. Here are some examples:

  • Texas – 32 hours classroom, 7 hours driving
  • Florida – 30 hours classroom, 6 hours driving
  • New York – 24 hours classroom, 6 hours driving
  • Illinois – 30 hours classroom, 6 hours driving
  • Pennsylvania – 30 hours classroom, 6 hours driving
  • Ohio – 24 hours classroom, 8 hours driving
  • Washington – 30 hours classroom, 6 hours driving
  • Arizona – 30 hours classroom, 6 hours driving
  • Michigan – 24 hours classroom, 6 hours driving
  • Georgia – 30 hours classroom, 6 hours driving

Some states have lower requirements or no specified minimum hours for driver’s education. Many states also have exceptions to driver’s ed for older new drivers. But overall, 30 hours of classroom time and 6 hours behind-the-wheel is the most common requirement nationwide.

Why Driver’s Education is Important

There are some key reasons why formal driver’s education is an important part of the process for new drivers to get licensed:

  • Learning driving laws – Classroom instruction ensures new drivers learn the rules of the road before getting behind the wheel.
  • Practicing driving skills – Hands-on lessons build confidence and ability in controlling a vehicle before driving solo.
  • Driving experience – Training provides experience handling a variety of driving environments and situations.
  • Safety training – Driver’s ed focuses on defensive driving techniques to prevent accidents.
  • Bad habit prevention – Instructors can identify and correct any poor driving behaviors before they become ingrained.
  • Reduced risk – Teen drivers who complete driver’s education have lower accident and violation rates.

While expensive for many families, driver’s education remains a worthwhile investment in training safer teen drivers.


Getting a driver’s license in California requires 30 hours of classroom instruction and 6 hours of behind-the-wheel lessons. This formal driver’s training provides essential legal, safety, and skill education for new drivers prior to licensing. The investment in driver’s education aims to produce well-trained, responsible teen drivers and reduce accident risks on California roads.

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