Your First-Time Illinois Drivers License Guide

by Jim Thompson | Last Updated: October 14, 2023

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:

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:

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:

The classroom portion teaches topics like:

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:

Check out the SOS list of acceptable documents to see exactly what you should bring.

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:

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:

Study the Illinois Drivers Manual
Take a driver prep course, a great way to get you ready for your license. (Learn more)
Quiz yourself with an Illinois permit practice test

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.

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:

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:

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:

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:

Told you that you wanted to hang on to all the stuff from when you got your permit!

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:

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

And here are some links to other resources from the SOS to help you as you get out on the road