Your First-Time Pennsylvania Drivers License Guide

by Jim Thompson | Last Updated: March 16, 2021

The Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles (PA DMV) has no formal requirement for first-time drivers to complete drivers ed, but taking a course can really help prepare you to take to the road. Fortunately, it’s not difficult going through one of these courses, and there are plenty available to choose from. 

Steps to Getting Your Pennsylvania License

If you’re looking to get your Pennsylvania 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.

No matter your age, getting your license can be an exciting, scary, and confusing time, sometimes all at the same time. First off, let’s clear up some Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania Drivers Ed?

Technically, there is no drivers ed requirement in the state of Pennsylvania. However, it’s probably not a bad idea for anyone to take a drivers ed course before getting their first license.

Another reason you may want to consider drivers ed is that it can qualify you to move from a Junior License to an Unrestricted License sooner.

Drivers ed is a course that covers topics like:

Pennsylvania drivers ed can be completed online or at an approved driving school.

If you decide to take drivers ed, the easiest way to complete it is online. Taking drivers ed online means you can complete the course at a pace and on a schedule that works best for you.

If you think completing a course online might be a good fit, here’s a list of some great Pennsylvania online drivers ed providers.

Best Pennsylvania DMV Approved Online Drivers Ed Course Providers

Website Name Phone
Aceable.com Aceable Drivers Ed 512-522-4174
DriversEd.com PA Drivers Ed 888-651-2886
IDriveSafely.com I Drive Safely 800-990-2814
PennsylvaniaTeenDriving.com Teen Online Driver Ed 855-852-9331
APlusSchoolOfDriving.com A Plus School of Driving 412-726-4772
BmarcSchoolOfDriving.com Bmarc School of Driving 412-956-0222
CantorsDrivingSchool.com Cantors Driving School 610-277-1050

 

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

The Path to a Pennsylvania 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—Prepare for Your Permit

To start the licensing process, you should get these two things done first:

Now that you have a drivers manual, you need to study, study, study. You’ll need that knowledge to pass the knowledge test to get your permit.

Step 2—Getting Your Permit

You can apply for your instruction permit when you turn 16.

Application for a permit will happen at a DMV driver license center. You may want to make an appointment.

When you arrive, be sure to have the following:

If you are a non-U.S.citizen or a U.S. citizen who needs this information in another language, you should check this Proof of Residence documents list. The list is available in  Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, French, Khmer, Korean, Russian, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese

We’ve also provided links to the documents mentioned on the list and all of the translations at the end of this post.

We’ve also provided a list of links to all of the documents mentioned on the DMV list at the end of this post.

After you have shown all of this to the folks at the DMV, hold on to it! You may need it again when you apply for your license.

Now it’s time for your written permit test

The test will include questions about:

But there can’t be too many questions about any one thing because there are only 18 questions on the test! 

To pass the 18-question multiple-choice test, you’ll need to answer 15 correctly. 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 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.

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 DMV will give you two more chances, but there are some rules.

How to Retake Your Permit Test

Another Note—If you’re new to Pennsylvania 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—65 Hours of Practice Driving

Now it’s time to put that learner’s permit to good use, and you are required to use it for six months before you can apply for your license.

Before you can take a driving test, you’ll have to complete 65 hours of practice driving, and at least 10 of those will need to happen after dark, and five of them in bad weather. 

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. 

Since you’ll be using your permit for six months, there’s no reason not to drive WAY more than 65 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 at least 16 ½ to apply for your Junior License. 

You may take your driving test at the DMV or with a certified third-party business.

You must schedule an appointment with the DMV for a driving test. You can either call 717-412-5300 or schedule online

When you arrive for your appointment, be sure to have the following with you:

The examiner will give you instructions on where to drive for the test. Serious traffic violations such as speeding or failure to yield will result in automatic failure. Examiners use a point system to grade other aspects of performance. If you fail the test, the examiner will explain why and instruct you on how to re-take it.

Using Your New License

Per the rules of the Pennsylvania Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Program, your Junior License will come with some restrictions concerning when you can drive and who you can have in the car with you.

TIME:

If you are under age 18, you can’t drive from 11 P.M. to 5 A.M. except when driving:

You will need documentation to prove your eligibility to drive to these events.

PASSENGERS:

Your Junior License will be upgraded to an Unrestricted license when:

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 Pennsylvania DMV

Guide to Obtaining a Pennsylvania Junior Learner’s Permit and Junior Driver’s License

Sample Driver Knowledge Test

The Parent’s Supervised Driving Program 

The Pennsylvania Young Drivers Law Fact Sheet 

Parallel Parking Tutorial Video

Additional language versions of the Pennsylvania Drivers Manual

 

Additional language versions of the Proof of Residence list for U.S. Citizens

Arabic Khmer Spanish
Chinese Korean Ukrainian
French Russian Vietnamese

 

Additional language versions of the Proof of Residence list for non-U.S. Citizens

Arabic Khmer Spanish
Chinese Korean Ukrainian
French Russian Vietnamese

 

Links to the items on the Proof of Residence list

Consular Report of Birth Abroad (FS-240)

Certificate of Birth Abroad (FS-545)

Certification of Report of Birth of a U.S. Citizen (DS1350)

A Certificate of Naturalization (Form N-550 or Form N-570)

A Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-560 or Form N-561)

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

Employment Authorization Card (Form I-766)

Refugee Travel Document (Form I-571)

Form I-797

Form I-94

Form I-589

Form IC 5-26.5

Form I-20

Form I-327