Your First-Time Florida Drivers License Guide

by Jim Thompson | Last Updated: December 14, 2023

Most first-time drivers in Florida must complete a drivers ed course to learn how to drive safely. This step is required by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) 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 Florida License

If you’re looking to get your Florida Class E 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.

Getting your license is an exciting, scary, and confusing time, sometimes all at the same time. As for the confusing part, Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles doesn’t help matters much.

Let’s look at some things that might make things easier. First off, let’s clear up some Florida HSMV terms. 49 other states in the union call the process of learning to drive “drivers ed,” but not Florida. Instead, first-time drivers here are required to complete a Traffic Law and Substance Abuse Education (TLSAE) course. Now, everyone has learned that driving under the influence of “substances” is bad. A course called Traffic Law and Substance Abuse Education doesn’t sound like a place you’d learn to drive.

Terms (and abbreviations) you should know, starting with:

The Road to a Florida License in a Nutshell

The quick and dirty looks like this:

Now let’s take a look at what it’ll take to get those four steps done.

Step 1Complete the TLSAE Course

Since there’s no getting your learner’s license without it, let’s talk about getting it done. A Florida driver education course provides the skills and training necessary to make you a safe, responsible, and confident driver. The tips and techniques you will learn will make you a more responsible motorist, one that everyone will appreciate sharing the road with.

If Florida drivers ed is offered at your high school, it is available to you free of charge. Chances are good that if the course is offered at your school, it will follow the TLSAE curriculum. The 4-hour TLSAE course is also available online. An online course offers real flexibility because the curriculum can be worked on at any time, often from your phone. There are lots of online courses available, but not all are approved by the FLHSMV. If an online course sounds like it would work for you, check out our list of approved online TLSAE providers at the end of this post. If you (or your folks) would prefer a traditional driving school experience, check out our guide to selecting the best driving school.

Step 2—Apply for a Learner’s License

To apply for your permit at the FLHSMV, you must:

Once you’ve gotten the TLSAE out of the way, it’s time to head to your nearest FLHSMV office. There is a lot of paperwork you’ll need to bring with you, so make sure you have it all together when you go.

Check out the FLHSMV list of acceptable documents to see exactly what you should bring. We’ve also provided a list of links to all of the documents mentioned on the FLHSMV list at the bottom of this post. These will be especially helpful if you are not a U.S. citizen.

After you have shown all of this to the FLHSMV, hold on to it! You’ll need to show it to them again when you apply for your Class E license. By the way, if you have recently moved to Florida and started this dance in another state, here are some tips that might help. You will also need to have passed your Class E knowledge exam. This is a 50 question test, and it takes a score of 80% to pass. The test will cover Florida road signs and markings, traffic law, and safe driving practices. You can complete the test in three ways:

To give yourself a leg up on passing the knowledge exam, you might want 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 Florida HSMV exams. It’s like seeing all the answers before the test even begins! Don’t head for your test without a dress rehearsal, you want to pass the first time.

Once you pass, that information will automatically be sent to the FLHSMV. Good news! If you take your TLSAE course online, there’s a good chance that your knowledge test will be built in. Not so good news. Florida state statute 322.56(3)(b) and (e) states that even if you have passed the knowledge test, you might be randomly chosen to retake it at the FLHSMV office. That means you shouldn’t forget everything you learned after passing the first time like you do in history class. Besides, if you’re going to be driving a car, the folks around you are going to appreciate it if you remember, too.

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 got 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.

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 DMV exams. It’s like seeing all the answers before the test even begins! Don’t head to the DMV without a dress rehearsal, you want to pass the first time.

You can find permit practice tests (both paid and free versions) all over the internet.

The FLHSMV allows every second (or third or fourth or…) chances to get a passing score. The only frustrating thing is that you will be charged $10 plus a service fee every time you try.

By the way, if you’re new to the Sunshine State 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. 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. You can print this log to track your driving time easily. Your permit does come with some restrictions.

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. Also, do yourself the favor of driving in as many conditions as you can, places like:

It’s better if you don’t see these things for the first time on your own. You can’t apply for your Class E license until 12 months after receiving your permit or your 18th birthday, whichever comes first. With that much time to kill, there’s no reason not to drive WAY more than 50 hours! It can only do you good. You’ll also want to be on your best driving behavior while driving with your learner’s license. If you are convicted of a moving violation, you won’t be able to obtain your drivers license for one year from the conviction date.

BTW—If you are planning a family road trip, you may get the chance to do some practice driving in another state. Check this out to see if you can.

Step 4—Pass a Driving Test

Now’s the time to show off all you’ve learned by passing a driving skills test. This test can only be taken after you’ve had your learner’s license for a year or have turned 18. Like your knowledge test, your driving skills test can be taken in one of three ways:

Like your knowledge test, you may be randomly selected to retake your driving skills test. You can only take your driving skills test in a car with valid registration, and you have proof of insurance. You also won’t be allowed to take the exam if your car has:

The test also won’t be given in Jeep-type vehicles without framed canvas or metal doors held by hinges and door latch, doesn’t meet bumper height requirements, or only has a top speed of 20 to 25 miles per hour. The driving skills test will require you to demonstrate the following skills:

After the test, pass or fail, the examiner/agent will explain any mistakes you may have made. Naturally, if you fail the test, you will be asked to study or practice before returning for a re-test, and every retest will cost you $10 plus a service fee. If you pass the test, the information will automatically be sent to the FLHSMV, and you’re finally ready to trade your learner’s license for your Class E. When you head to the FLHSMV office to make the swap, make sure you have:

Using Your New Florida License

If you are under age 18, the Florida Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) puts some restrictions on your new license.

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!

Now here’s that list of approved online TSLAE providers we promised you way back at the first of this post:

Best Florida FLHSMV Approved Online TLSAE Course Providers

And here are the links to all of those “Acceptable Documents” you’ll need to apply for your permit.