Most first-time drivers in Illinois must complete a drivers ed course to learn how to drive safely. This step is required by the Illinois Secretary of State(IL SOS) to obtain a driving permit or a drivers license. Fortunately, it’s not difficult going through one of these courses, and there are plenty available to choose from.
Steps to Getting Your Illinois License
If you’re looking to get your Illinois drivers license, we’re here to help. Welcome to our step by step guide to get you off of your couch and out onto the road. We know you have a lot of questions, so let’s get going.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, getting your first license can be an exciting, scary, and confusing time, sometimes all at the same time. First off, let’s clear up some Illinois DMV terms. In some cases, it seems they’ve gone out of their way to make it confusing.
Terms (and abbreviations) you should know:
- Classroom Driver Education—A.K.A. “drivers ed.” A state-approved course that will cover driving law and basic driving skills.
- Instruction Permit—A.K.A. “Learners Permit” or “Driving Permit.” This permit will allow you to practice drive legally before applying for your license.
- Class D License—The license you’re shooting for, allowing you to drive any vehicle besides a motorcycle or commercial vehicle.
- Written Test—A.K.A. ” Permit Test” or “Knowledge” Test, it’s the one you’ll have to pass to get a permit.
- Driving Skills Test—A.K.A. “Road Skills Test” or just plain ‘ol “Driving Test,” it’s the one you’ll have to pass to get your license.
- GDL—A.K.A. “Graduated Drivers License.” A “Class D” with some restrictions. These restrictions will apply if you are under 18.
See? I told you they made it confusing!
Who Must Take Illinois Drivers Ed?
No matter your age, it’s probably not a bad idea for anyone to take a drivers ed course before getting their first license. You can enroll in drivers ed at age 15. If you are 18-20. Illinois also requires what they term adult drivers ed.
The Path to a Illinois License in a Nutshell
The quick and dirty looks like this:
- Take drivers ed
- Get a learner’s permit
- Complete 50 hours of practice driving
- Pass a road skills test
Now let’s take a look at what it’ll take to get those four steps done.
Step 1—Take Drivers Ed
An Illinois drivers ed course is comprised of:
- 30 hours of classroom instruction
- Six hours of behind the wheel instruction
The classroom portion teaches topics like:
- Illinois traffic laws
- Meanings of road signs, signals, and markings
- Your responsibilities as a licensed driver
- Alcohol safety and drug abuse awareness
- Motor vehicle operation fundamentals
- Driving in hazardous situations
- Driving in emergency situations
While adult drivers ed can be completed online, the same is not true of teen drivers ed. Instead, teens can complete it at an approved driving school, or, if it is offered, your high school.
At the end of your course, your driving school will report to the Secretary of State. You’ll need to check to make sure your driving record has been updated before heading in to apply for your license.
As you are deciding where to take drivers ed, check out our guide to selecting the best driving school.
Step 2—Getting Your Permit
You can apply for your permit while you are enrolled in, or 30 days prior to active participation in, an approved driver education class. Either you or your driver education instructor may submit the application to the Secretary of State. Please check with your instructor.
Application for your permit will require you to provide the following:
- A document you have signed before to compare to your current signature
- Proof of Identity
- Proof of Address
- Proof of Social Security number
Check out the SOS list of acceptable documents to see exactly what you should bring.
- You’ll also need to bring
- Your eyeballs (for a vision test)
- Check, cash, or credit card to pay your application fee.
After you have shown all of this to get your permit, hold on to it! You’ll need much of it again when you apply for your license.
Now it’s time for your written permit test
The test will include questions about:
- Driving laws and their penalties
- Various kinds of driving skills, such as turning, signaling, lane changing, and parking
- Differences between highway driving and city driving, including speed limits
- Procedures to be used in accidents or emergencies
- Distinguishing various signs and their meaning based on color and shape
- Meanings of pavement markings on both highways and streets
To pass the 35-question multiple-choice test, you’ll need to score 80%. Here are some suggestions on how to prepare.
Another way to give yourself a leg up on passing the permit test is to consider one (or more) of the following:
A permit practice test has everything the “real” test does, except the pressure. That’s because practice tests feature questions taken from actual SOS exams. It’s like seeing all the answers before the test even begins! Don’t head to the SOS office without a dress rehearsal, you want to pass the first time
What If Your Test Didn’t Go Like You Planned?
What if you get to the testing center and, despite all your best preparation, your nerves get the best of you, and you wind up failing the test? First, don’t panic. Nearly 1 out of 3 test-takers fail on their first attempt.
If you do happen to fail, the DMV will give you two more chances, but there are some rules.
- You will have to wait until at least the next day for another attempt
- You may be subject to an additional fee
Another Note—If you’re new to Illinois and started this whole license dance somewhere else, here are some tips that might help.
Step 3—50 Hours of Practice Driving
Now it’s time to put that learners permit to good use, and you are required to use it for nine months before you can apply for your license.
Before you can take a driving test, you’ll have to complete 50 hours of practice driving, and at least 10 of those will need to happen after dark.
Your permit does come with some restrictions. You must be accompanied at all times by a licensed driver who is:
- 21 or older
- Has had their license for at least one year
- Riding in the front passenger seat
You also won’t be able to drive between 10 PM and 6 AM Sun-Thurs or 11 PM to 5 AM Fri or Sat
While you might be nervous at first, do your best to enjoy this time and always pay close attention to what’s going on around you. You never know the kinds of things, good and bad, that you might learn from the drivers around you. Take time to learn all you can from the licensed driver who is with you.
Also, do yourself the favor of driving in as many conditions as you can, places like:
- On the highway
- In neighborhoods
- On winding or hilly roads
- In downtown areas
- In bad weather
It’s better if you don’t see these things for the first time on your own.
Since you’ll be using your permit for nine months, there’s no reason not to drive WAY more than 50 hours! It can only do you good.
Step 4—Pass a Driving Test
Finally, the last hurdle, your driving test. It’s all good. You got this.
You must be 16 years old to apply for your license. You must also have:
- Held a valid instruction permit for at least nine months
- No moving violation convictions or at-fault crashes in those nine months
- No alcohol or drug convictions of any kind in those nine months
You must schedule an appointment with the SOS office for a driving test. When you arrive for your appointment, be sure to have the following with you:
- Parent/Guardian (to sign a Consent for Minor to Drive and to confirm 50 hours of practice driving)
- 50-Hour Practice Driving Log / Under Age 18 Applicant
- Instruction Permit
- Proof of Identity
- Proof of Address
- Proof of social Security number
- Check, cash, or credit card to pay any additional application fees
Told you that you wanted to hang on to all the stuff from when you got your permit!
- You will also need a vehicle to take the test in. The vehicle must:
- Be insured
- Be properly registered
- Be able to pass a visual safety inspection
As for the test itself, you should spend a little time with the Illinois driver handbook. It paints a very clear picture of what you’ll need to (and can’t) do if you want to pass your driving test.
The long and short of it is this.
According to page 14 of the Illinois driver handbook, you will be observed (and graded) on your ability to perform the following during the test:
- Checking the vehicle controls, including the parking brake and mirrors. The applicant must make all adjustments to seats, safety belts, mirrors, and other equipment before the vehicle is put into motion
- Backing the vehicle approximately 50 feet at a slow speed, straight and smoothly
- Performing a turnabout using an alley on the left side of the street
- Parking uphill on the side of the road
- Starting uphill from a parked position
- Parking downhill on the side of the road
- Starting downhill from a parked position
- Controlling the vehicle by obeying all traffic signs, controls devices, rights of way, lane markings and properly using turn signals
Using Your New License
Per the rules of the Illinois Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Program, your new license will come with some restrictions concerning when you can drive and who you can have in the car with you. According to Cyberdrive Illinois:
Nighttime driving restrictions — Sun.-Thurs., 10 p.m.-6 a.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.-6 a.m. (local curfews may differ).
Must maintain a conviction-free driving record for six months prior to turning 18 before moving to the Full Licensing Phase. A traffic conviction during the Initial Licensing Phase may extend restrictions beyond age 18.
All occupants must wear safety belts.
For the first 12 months of licensing, or until the driver turns 18, whichever occurs first, the number of passengers is limited to one person under age 20, unless the passenger(s) is a sibling, stepsibling, child, or stepchild of the driver. After this period, the number of passengers is limited to one in the front seat and the number of safety belts in the back seat.
Cell phone use while driving including a hands-free device is prohibited for drivers under age 19, except in the case of an emergency.
Texting while driving is prohibited.
A Final Note
Any licensed driver will tell you that you will never face a driving situation as complicated, nerve-wracking, and time-consuming as getting your license. By no means should you let your guard down once you’re behind the wheel but, rest assured. You’ll never face anything on the road that will compare with the process it took to get you your license.
Good luck as you work your way through this. Can’t wait to see you out on the road!
A Final Final Note
If you’ve made it this far, may we suggest you bookmark this page? You’ll probably be coming back to it often as you work your way through this!
A Few More Helpful Items from the Illinois SOS
- Illinois Graduated Driver Licensing System Brochure
- Illinois Rules of the Road
- Parent Teen Driving Contract
- Parent Teen Driving Guide
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