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:
- Classroom Driver Education—A.K.A. “drivers ed.” A state-approved course that will cover driving law and basic driving skills.
- Learner’s Permit—A.K.A. “Instruction Permit” or “Driving Permit.” This permit will allow you to practice drive legally before applying for your license.
- Junior License—The first step toward your unrestricted Class A license.
- Knowledge Test—A.K.A. “Written Driving” or “Permit” Test, it’s the one you’ll have to pass to get a permit.
- Driving Skills Test—A.K.A. “Road Skills Test” or just plain ‘ol “Driving Test,” it’s the one you’ll have to pass to get your license.
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 traffic laws
- Meanings of road signs, signals, and markings
- Your responsibilities as a licensed driver
- Alcohol safety and drug abuse awareness
- Motor vehicle operation fundamentals
- Driving in hazardous situations
- Driving in emergency situations
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
If you (or your folks) would prefer a traditional driving school experience, check out our guide to selecting the best driving school.
The Path to a Pennsylvania License in a Nutshell
The quick and dirty looks like this:
- Prepare for your permit
- Get a learner’s permit
- Complete 65 hours of practice driving
- Pass a road skills test
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:
- Download a copy of the Pennsylvania Drivers Manual
- Visit your doctor for a physical and complete a “Non-Commercial Learner’s Permit Application.” (Form DL-180)
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:
- A Completed “Non-Commercial Learner’s Permit Application” (Form DL-180)
- If younger than 18, a “Parent or Guardian Consent Form” (Form DL-180TD)
- Proof of Identity
- If 18 or older, two Proofs of Residence
- Social Security card
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.
- You’ll also need to bring:
- Your eyeballs (for a vision test)
- Check, money order, or credit card to pay your application fee
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:
- Driving laws and their penalties, including traffic, liability insurance, alcohol-related, pedestrian, and implied-consent laws
- Various kinds of driving skills, such as turning, signaling, lane changing, and parking
- Differences between highway driving and city driving, including speed limits
- Procedures to be used in accidents or emergencies
- Distinguishing various signs and their meaning based on color and shape
- Meanings of pavement markings on both highways and streets
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.
Another way to give yourself a leg up on passing the permit test is to consider one (or more) of the following:
- Study the Pennsylvania Drivers Manual
- Take a driver prep course, a great way to get you ready for your license. (Learn more)
- Quiz yourself with a Pennsylvania 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 DMV 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.
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.
- You will have to wait until at least the next day for another attempt
- You may be subject to an additional fee
Another Note—If you’re new to Pennsylvania and started this whole license dance somewhere else, here are some tips that might help.
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:
- You must be accompanied at all times by a licensed driver who is 21 or older (or a licensed 18-year-old spouse)
- You cannot drive between 11 P.M. and 5 A.M. unless you are driving to or from work, school, or volunteer service
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
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.
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
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:
- Parent/Guardian Certification Form (Form DL-108C)
- Instruction Permit
- The valid drivers license of the person who drove you to the Testing Site
- Check, money order, or credit card to pay your application fee
- A vehicle to take the test in. The vehicle must:
- Be insured
- Be properly registered
- Be able to pass a visual safety inspection
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.
If you are under age 18, you can’t drive from 11 P.M. to 5 A.M. except when driving:
- To or from work
- To or from school
- To or from volunteer service
You will need documentation to prove your eligibility to drive to these events.
- For the first six months, you can only transport one non-family member in your car
- After the first six months, you can transport up to three non-family members in your car
Your Junior License will be upgraded to an Unrestricted license when:
- You turn 18 or,
- You have taken drivers ed and have maintained a crash- and conviction-free driving record for 12 months
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
Additional language versions of the Proof of Residence list for non-U.S. Citizens
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 Citizenship (Form N-560 or Form N-561)
Employment Authorization Card (Form I-766)
Refugee Travel Document (Form I-571)
Form IC 5-26.5
Kentucky Drivers Ed
Ready for your Kentucky license? Confused by the Trnsportation Cabinet website? Let us help! Find links to all the steps and forms you'll need to get behind the wheel.
First-Time NY License Guide for Drivers 18 and Up
Does the NYDMV website have you confused about their 5-hour pre-licensing course? Let us help! Find answers you need to help get you on the road!
Consider Drivers Ed
Not only mandatory in some states, it’s also a great way to learn driving safety and how to behave properly while out on the road. Consider drivers ed
Your First-Time California Drivers License Guide
California license time? Confused by the DMV website? Let us help! Find links to all the steps, forms (and a list of online drivers ed schools) you'll need to get behind the wheel.
Aceable Overview: The Austin Startup that Revolutionized Online Education
Aceable continues past drivers ed taking boring courses nobody enjoyed and turning them into engaging, and dare I say it, enjoyable learning experiences.
Michigan Drivers Ed
Ready for your Michigan license? Confused by the SOS website? Let us help! Find links to all the steps and forms you'll need to get behind the wheel.