Your First-Time Indiana Drivers License Guide

by Jim Thompson | Last Updated: February 8, 2021
Most first-time drivers in Indiana must complete a drivers ed course to learn how to drive safely. This step is required by the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (IN BMV) 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 Indiana License

If you’re looking to get your Indiana 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. Getting your license is an exciting, scary, and confusing time, sometimes all at the same time. First off, let’s clear up some Indiana BMV terms. Sometimes it seems they’ve gone out of their way to make it confusing. Terms (and abbreviations) you should know:
  • Learners Permit—The “license” you will use for behind the wheel training and practice driving as you prepare for your driving test. Also known as a “Learner’s License” or a “Driving Permit” or an “Instructional Permit.”
  • Behind the Wheel Training—Six hours in-car with a licensed driving instructor. Required of every driving candidate younger than 16 years and 270 days. More about this in a minute.
  • Drivers Ed—A 30-hour classroom or online course teaching the basics of driving.

The Road to an Indiana 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
  • Apply for a Probationary Driver’s License
  • Pass a road skills test
Now let’s take a look at what it’ll take to get those five steps done.

Step 1Take Drivers Ed

Technically, the BMV only requires 15-year-olds to complete drivers ed. However, if you are 16 or older, taking a drivers ed course will not only give you valuable knowledge, it will ensure that you are better prepared to pass your written and driving tests. The 30-hour Indiana drivers ed course will cover topics including:
  • Indiana traffic law
  • Defensive driving techniques
  • Identification of Indiana road signs and their meanings
  • Handling emergency situations
  • Sharing the road safely with others
The classroom side of the course may be completed at a professional driving school or online. For most people, the online option is the preferable way to go because of its flexibility. However, no matter how you decide to take the course, the course you select must be approved by the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles. If online drivers ed sounds good to you, start the search for your course with our list of BMV approved online course providers.
 

Best Indiana BMV Approved Online Drivers Ed Course Providers

Website Name Phone
MyImprov.com Drivers License Direct by Improv 800-660-8908
DriversEd.com Drivers Ed 888-651-2886
DriverEdToGo.com Driver Ed To Go 866-749-4445
IndianaTeenDriving.com Indiana Teen Driving 855-852-9334
Indiana.AAADriverProgram.com AAA How to Drive 317-612-2653
A4TS.com Alliance for Traffic Safety 888-882-7598
AllStarDriverEdOnline.com All-Star Driver Education 800-967-7719
DriverEdSafety.com Indiana Educational Center 317-759-5560
DriverEdInABox.com Driver Ed In A Box 800-562-6405
LearnToDriveIndiana.com Learn to Drive Online 812-589-4936

 

If you (or your folks) would prefer a traditional driving school experience, check out our guide to selecting the best driving school.

How to Choose the Best Driving School for Your Teen

Step 2—Apply for a Permit

You’ll need a learners permit in the following circumstances:
  • If you are younger than 16 and are enrolled in drivers ed
  • If you are younger than 18 and not enrolled in drivers ed
  • If you are younger than 18 and under the care of the Department of Child Services
  • If you are older than 18 and have never held a license
Here’s the rundown of the dance you’ll have to do so that you can stop dancing and start driving. Head to your nearest BMV office. You won’t need an appointment unless you need the test read to you. Appointments for applicants who are deaf or hard of hearing can be made by a branch manager or by calling the BMV’s Contact Center at 888-692-6841.
  • When you get there, make sure to have the following with you:
    • Completed Certificate of Driver Education (CDE) or proof that you are currently enrolled (Age 15 only)
    • Proof of Identity
    • Proof of Lawful Status
    • Proof of Social Security
    • Proof of Indiana Residency
Check out the Indiana BMV list of acceptable documents for these “proofs” to see exactly what you should bring. We’ve also provided a list of links to all of the documents mentioned on the BMV list at the bottom of this post.
  • Once they’ve figured out that you are who you say you are, you’ll have to:
    • Pass a vision exam
    • Pass the BMV Operator Written Test
The BMV Operator Written Test will require you to demonstrate a basic understanding of:
  • Indiana traffic laws
  • Safe driving techniques
  • Traffic maneuvers
  • Types of traffic signs.
Many BMV offices will administer the test on an automated testing terminal with a touch screen. An office equipped with these terminals can also give the test in Arabic, Burmese, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Polish, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
 
BTW, The BMV stops administering the test one hour before closing time, so you’ll have plenty of time to finish before they shut it down for the day.
 
To pass the written test, you’ll need to score 84%. Here are some suggestions on how to prepare.

How to Pass the Permit Test

Another way to give yourself a leg up on passing the permit test, 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 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.

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.

Fail Your Permit Test? You’re Not Alone

If you do happen to fail, the BMV will give you another try. The only frustrating thing is that it means another trip to the BMV because you can’t try again until at least the next day.

How to Retake Your Permit Test

Another Note—If you’re new to Indiana and started this whole license dance somewhere else, here are some tips that might help.

I Just Got My Permit and Now We’re Moving?!?

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. You must be accompanied at all times by a licensed driver in the front passenger seat.
  • This driver must:
    • Be 25 years of age or older with a valid drivers license
    • Be related to you by blood, marriage, or legal status. If you are married and your spouse has a valid license, they only need be 21
    • A licensed driving instructor or a certified driver rehabilitation specialist
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:
  • 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. If you are under 21, you can’t apply for a probationary license until 180 days after receiving your permit. With that much time to kill, there’s no reason not to drive WAY more than 50 hours! It can only do you good.

 

Step 4—Apply for a Probationary Driver’s License

To be eligible for this step you must:
  • Have held an Indiana learner’s permit for 180 days and
  • Meet the age requirements:
    • Be at least 16-years and 90-days-old and have completed drivers ed, OR
    • Be at least 16-years and 270-days-old if you didn’t take drivers ed
If you’d rather not count days on a calendar, the BMV has provided this handy chart they call the “Birthday Checker.” If you pass the age requirements, step 4 is easy, and you’ll complete it the same day as your driving test. You’ll need to schedule an appointment and arrive 15 minutes before your scheduled time. Here’s a quick video on how to make an appointment online. Head to your nearest BMV branch office: The car you bring for the driving test must pass the following requirements:
  • It must be insured to Indiana’s minimum liability insurance standard.
  • It must be properly registered.
  • It must be legally equipped and in safe and clean condition.
  • It must pass a visual inspection by the examiner just before going on a skills exam
  • All interior cameras must be disabled.
Not sure how to do that last one, but in Massachusetts and North Carolina, you can cover the screen with paper, or the examiner will hold his clipboard over it whenever you are backing up.

 

Step 5—Pass a Driving Test

Finally, the last hurdle, your driving test. It’s all good. You got this. Your driving skills test can be taken at a BMV branch office or, if you have taken drivers ed, with your instructor at the driving school.

Here are some of the things your examiner will be looking for. Be sure you pay attention to them, too.

You’ll lose points on your score if you:

The BMV website also mentions about 20 things that will result in an automatic failure. In a nutshell, do anything that would result in getting you a ticket if you had a license will result in you not getting one. If things don’t go well the first time… If you were to fail your driving skills test, the BMV would make you wait 14 days to try again. If you happen to fail three times, the wait stretches to 60 days. But, hey, you worked hard, so these rules don’t apply to you, right?

Using Your Shiny New License

If you are under 21 and have completed all five steps, you’ll be the proud owner of an Indiana Probationary License. Probationary Licenses were established as part of the Indiana Graduated Drivers Licensing (GDL) Program, and they come with some restrictions. For starters, go ahead and toss your phone into your purse or backpack or glove compartment because you cannot use it except to call 911. There are additional rules about when you can drive and who can be in the car with you.

Time and passengers

For the first 180 days, you can’t drive between 10 PM and 5 AM, and you can’t have anyone else in the car with you. After 180 days (or until you turn 18), you can’t drive between the following hours:

EXCEPTIONS: You can drive anytime if:

You can drive at the approved times to transport your child, stepchild, sibling, step or half-sibling, or spouse.

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!

BONUS:

If it’s permit application time and you need any of the forms mentioned on the BMV’s list of acceptable documents, you can find them right here.

Consular Report of Birth Abroad (FS-240) or Form DS-2029

Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-560)

Certificate of Naturalization issued by DHS (Form N-550)

Permanent Resident “Green” Card (Form I-551)

Employment Authorization Card (Form I-766)

Indiana Real ID Indiana Residency Affidavit

Form I-94

Form I-589