Your First-Time New York Drivers License Guide

by Jim Thompson | Last Updated: October 10, 2023

In New York, first-time drivers younger than 18 must complete a drivers ed course to get a license. Taking drivers ed is required by the New York Department of Motor Vehicles (NY DMV) as the first step in the licensing process.

On the other hand, if you are 18 or older and looking for your first-time license, the rules are a little different.

Steps to Getting Your New York License

If you’re looking to get your New York 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 New York 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 New York 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. However, New York only requires drivers ed for driving candidates younger than 18. You are free to get your permit and enroll in drivers ed when you turn 16

The Path to a New York 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—Getting Your Permit

Application for a permit will happen at your local DMV office or you can begin the process online. Before you get started, you’ll need to decide whether you want a standard, Real ID, or enhanced permit.

Whether you choose online or in-person you will need to gather some documents:

Check out the DMV list of acceptable documents to see exactly what you should bring or be ready to upload.

Now it’s time for your written permit test

You can take your test at a DMV office or online. Whichever way you decide, you’ll still need to take a trip to the DMV to get your picture taken and to pay your permit fees.

The test will include questions about:

The test is available in English, Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Bosnian, Chinese, French, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Nepali, Polish, Russian and Spanish.

To pass the 20-question multiple-choice test, you’ll need to score 80% overall and 50% or above on the road sign portion. 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 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, including on the NYDMV website.

What If Your Test Didn’t Go Like You Planned?

What if, 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. The NY DMV is kind enough to give you another shot free of charge.

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

Step 2—Take Drivers Ed

A New York drivers ed course is comprised of:

The classroom portion teaches topics like:

You can locate your nearest driving school on the NYDMV website.

At the end of your course, you will receive a completion certificate. Hold on to it! You’ll need it when you apply for your license.

BTWIf you passed drivers ed in another state, your out-of-state course and/or driver license must be approved by the DMV. I’m also sorry to report that, even if you have a full license, you won’t be able to drive in New York if you’re younger than 16.

Step 3—Complete 50 Hours of Practice Driving

In the first six months of having your permit, you’ll have to complete 50 hours of practice driving, and at least 15 of those will need to happen after dark and 10 in moderate to heavy traffic. Remember, you have to hold your permit for six months before applying for your license. There’s no reason not to rack up WAAAY more than 50 hours of practice.

There are restrictions you must follow during these first six months. You must be accompanied at all times by a licensed driver who is at least 21 years old. There are also some places you CANNOT drive:

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. 

Be sure to keep a record of your practice with a Certification of Supervised Driving form and take it with you to your road test.

Step 4—Pass a Road Test

Finally, the last hurdle, your road test. It’s all good. You got this.

Once you have completed drivers ed and your 50 practice hours, you can schedule your road test. You will need the following items to schedule your test.

You can attempt your driving test the first time six months after receiving your permit. 

During the test, you will be observed (and graded) on your ability to:

Did you pass? Congratulations! You’re the proud owner of a shiny 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!

A Few More Helpful Items from the New York DMV

Visit the DMV’s New York Younger Driver Resource Page. It is a great resource to prepare you for each step of the process and for answering any questions you might have along the way.