Most first-time drivers in Virginia must complete a drivers ed course to learn how to drive safely. This step is required by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (VA DMV) 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 Virginia License
If you’re looking to get your Virginia 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.
For first-time drivers in Virginia, how you’ll get your license depends on your age.
- For drivers under 18—Getting a license will require completing an approved a state-approved driver education course, obtaining a learners permit, and completing 45 hours of supervised practice driving. The minimum age to receive a Class D operator’s license is 16 years and 3 months.
- For drivers 18 and older—Getting a license will require completing a state-approved driver education course or that you hold a learner permit for at least 60 days.
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 Virginia DMV terms. In some cases, it seems they’ve gone out of their way to make it confusing.
Terms (and abbreviations) you should know:
- Class “D” license—This is the license you’ll be shooting for. Easy, right? Here’s how the Virginia DMV defines it:
- “Your standard driver’s license (non-commercial) will display “D” under the “Class” heading. The back of your driver’s license will decode the classification of “D” as an “Operator DL.” A Class “D” driver’s license allows you to operate passenger cars.”
- Driver Education Program—Also known on the VA DMV site as a “Driver Training Course.” The DMV describes it like this:
- The program must present 36 classroom periods,… (lots of blah, blah, blah here)…. must also include 14 in-car instruction periods – 7 periods of driving and 7 periods of observation… (ending in blah, blah, blah).
BTW, when they say “periods,” they mean 50 minutes.
- Learners Permit—The “license” you’ll use for practice driving. The minimum age to get one is 15 years and 6 months. If you are 18 or older, you’ll have to drive on this license for 60 days before you can take the driving test for your “Class D.” More on this in a bit.
- Knowledge Test—Two-part written exam required to get your learners permit.
- Road Skills Test—In-car driving test required to get your Class D license.
See? I told you they make it confusing.
Who Must Take Virginia 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, Virginia only requires drivers ed for driving candidates aged 15 1/2 to 18 years old.
If you are 18 already, you won’t be required to take drivers ed but, if you skip it, you won’t be able to take your driving test for 60 days.
The Path to a Virginia License in a Nutshell
The quick and dirty looks like this:
- Take drivers ed
- Get a learner’s permit
- Complete 45 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—Take Drivers Ed
A Virginia drivers ed course is broken into three parts:
- 36 hours of classroom instruction
- Seven hours of behind the wheel practice
- Seven hours of in-car observation
The classroom portion teaches topics like:
- Alcohol safety and drug abuse awareness
- Aggressive and distracted driving
- Pedestrian and bicycle safety
- Handicapped parking
- Fuel-efficient driving practices
- Motorcycle awareness
The 14 hours of in-car observation and behind the wheel practice must be completed with a licensed professional driving instructor at a Virginia DMV approved driving school. Depending on where you live, there may be one more drivers ed hoop for you to jump through. If you are under 18, you may have to complete a separate training the DMV calls the 90-Minute Parent/Teen Component. This portion is required to be completed in person if you live in Planning District 8 (a.k.a.the following counties):
- Prince Williams
- and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park
Even if you don’t live in Planning District 8, you may still be required to complete the 90-Minute Parent/Teen Component. You need to check if your school division requires it. If they do, the nice thing for those living outside of District 8 is that it doesn’t matter if you complete it in person or online.
As far as drivers ed itself, it can be completed at a driving school or, if it is offered, at your high school.
Perhaps the easiest way is to complete the classroom portion of drivers ed is online. Taking drivers ed online means you can complete this portion at a pace and on a schedule that works best for you.
Important note: When you are shopping for an online course, some providers refer to it as a “30-hour” course. While that is technically true (36 sessions X 50 minutes is 30 hours, after all), don’t think that their course won’t work for you, it will.
If you think completing a course online might be a good fit for you, here’s a list of some great Virginia online drivers ed providers.
Best Virginia 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.
Virginia Driver Education for Homeschoolers
Homeschooled teens can complete the driver portion of their driver education course supervised by their parents. For this training to be recognized by the state, your parent or guardian must become authorized by completing the following:
- Submit a Form HS 1, a Parental Authorization Application for Home-Schooled In-Car Driver Education
- Provide proof from your local school district that you are homeschooled
- Provide proof of completion of the classroom portion of drivers ed. Homeschooled students may also complete the classroom portion of drivers ed online
Once this information has been assembled, it should be mailed to:
Department of Motor Vehicles Commercial Licensing Work Center
P.O. Box 27412
Richmond, VA 23269
Hold It, You’re Still Not Quite Done
Successful completion of drivers ed requires the passing of a final exam. The test comes in two parts:
- Part 1—10 questions over road signs. You must get all the questions right before you move to
- Part 2—Multiple-choice test over general driving knowledge
To pass the multiple-choice section, 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 Virginia Drivers Manual
- Take a driver prep course, a great way to get you ready for your license. (Learn more)
- Quiz yourself with a Virginia 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 another try, three, in fact, but there are some rules.
- If you are under age 18, by law you must wait a full 15 days before you can retake the exam.
- If you are age 18 or older, you must pay a $2.00 re-examination fee if you retake the exam within 15 days.
Exams are administered at approved driving schools. You will need to schedule your time to take the test with the school. On test day you’ll need to bring:
- A Photo ID—This can be a
- DMV issued identification card
- School ID
- Valid passport
- Military ID
- Proof of Completion of Drivers Ed—Provided by your driving school or online provider
- A Completed Form DTS 62—Also known as a “Parental Consent for Online Driver Education Examination”
- Proof of Completion of the 90-Minute Parent/Teen Component—if required
- A Form DTS 63—Also known as an “Online Driver Education Examination Monitor Record”
After you have passed the test, be sure to have your examiner sign Form DTS 63. You’ll need it when you apply for your permit. Speaking of that…
Step 2—Getting Your Permit
Application for a permit will happen at your local DMV office. You will need to contact them in advance for an appointment. When you arrive, be sure to have the following:
- A Completed Drivers License Application (Form 1P)
- Proof of Identity
- Proof of Legal Presence
- Proof of Residency
- Proof of Social Security, if you have been issued a card
Check out the VA DMV list of acceptable documents to see exactly what you should bring. You can also start the “Proof Process” online. We’ve also provided a list of links to all of the documents mentioned on the DMV list at the bottom of this post.
- You’ll also need to bring
- Your eyeballs (for a vision test)
- Check, cash, 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’ll need to show it to them again when you apply for your Class D license.
Step 3—45 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 45 hours of practice driving, and at least 15 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 in the front passenger seat.
- This driver must:
- Be 21 years of age or older with a valid drivers license
- Be at least 18 (with a valid license) if they are your legal guardian, brother, sister, halfbrother, half-sister, stepbrother, or stepsister.
If you are at least 16 years, 3 months and under age 18, your driver education certificate and a valid learner’s permit allow you to drive without a licensed driver beside you, as long as you have held your learner’s permit for nine months and the certificate is signed by a parent or legal guardian.
A couple more things to know
- If you are 18 years of age or older and you have never held a license, you must hold a learner’s permit for at least 60 days or show completion of a state-approved driver education program before you can apply for a driver’s license.
- If you are under age 18, you must hold a learner’s permit at least 9 months and provide proof of successful completion of a state-approved driver education program before you can receive a driver’s license.
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. Since you’ll be using your permit anywhere from two to nine months, there’s no reason not to drive WAY more than 50 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.
This part has gotten interesting in the age of Covid-19. The Virginia DMV has changed the administration of the test entirely.
The biggest change is that your test will be happening on a closed course and the examiner won’t be in the car with you. Make sure you are in a car with a working driver window so he can tell you what to do. Seriously, it’s in the instructions. The site says road skills will be given rain or shine. Kinda feel sorry for the examiners. How are they going to keep their clipboards dry while holding umbrellas?
What hasn’t changed are the things you will need to bring on the day of the test. These things include:
- Your learners permit
- Proof that you have completed drivers ed or an In-Car Maneuvers Observation Record (Form CSMA-19)
- All the paperwork you showed them the first time to get your permit
- A vehicle to take the test in. The vehicle must:
- Be insured
- Be properly registered
- Be able to pass a visual safety inspection
You should take a long look at the road skills test prep sheet. It is very detailed about what maneuvers you will be expected to execute during your test and how long you will have to complete them. take time to practice these so you can impress your examiner and pass easily. The prep sheet also lists things that will result in automatic failure of the road skills test. Basically, if you manage to get through the test without running into something, driving over the curb, or ignoring the examiner you should be golden. Once you have passed the test, there’s one more step that is unique to Virginia, the Licensing Ceremony. If you are a first-time teen driver, your license will be sent to the juvenile and domestic relations court in your jurisdiction. The court will then contact you to invite you to the ceremony. I’d like to think there will be cake, but I doubt it.
Using Your New License
Per the rules of the Virginia 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.
If you are under age 18, you can’t drive from midnight to 4 A.M. except when driving:
- To or from work
- To an adult-supervised activity sponsored by a civic, religious, or public organization
- Accompanied by a licensed parent or spouse age 18 or older as a front-seat passenger
- In case of emergency, including responding to emergency calls as a volunteer firefighter or rescue squad personnel
If you are under age 18, you may carry only one passenger under age 21, unless accompanied by a licensed parent or spouse age 18 or older as a front-seat passenger. Once you have held your license for a year, you may carry up to three passengers under age 21 in the following situations:
- Traveling to and from a school-sponsored activity
- When accompanied by a licensed driver 21 or older in the front passenger seat
- In case of an emergency.
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 Virginia DMV
New Driver Information
- Document Guide for Licenses and ID Cards
- Sample Knowledge Exam
- Driver Education Requirements
- Driver License Eligibility Requirements
- Learner’s Permit Information
- Points/Violations for Drivers Under Age 18
- Teen Driver Safety
- Teen Driving Restrictions
- Virginia Driver’s Manual
Resources for Parents
- DMV Fees
- DMV Frequently Asked Questions
- Parents in the Driver Seat
- Parent/Teen Driving Guide
- Teen Driver Safety Multimedia
Links to the VA DMV “Acceptable Documents”
- Form I-94
- Form I-20
- Form I-327
- Form I-797
- Form DS-2019
- Employment Authorization Card (Form I-766)
- Consular Report of Birth Abroad (FS-240)
- Certificate of Birth Abroad (FS-545)
- Certification of Report of Birth of a U.S. Citizen (DS1350)
- U.S. Certificate of Naturalization (Form N-550 or Form N-570)
- U.S. Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-560 or Form N-561)
- Permanent Resident “Green” Card (Form I-551)
- Virginia Certificate of Foreign Birth
- U.S. Certificate of Naturalization (Form N-550 or Form N-570)
- U.S. Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-560 or Form N-561)