A driver’s license is the key to the places you want to go—and not just on a highway.
Young adults should know that, throughout their lifetimes, a driver’s license is needed for everything from job applications to bank accounts to securing a home to boarding an airplane. The list is endless.
Understand the Graduated Driver License Program
To ease young people into full driving privileges as they develop their skills on the road, Tennessee has created the Graduated Driver License Program, which has different steps and restrictions that the state hopes will prevent tragic injuries and deaths.
There are four phases of licensing for people under age 18:
1. Learner Permit. You must be 15 and must pass the written knowledge exam and vision screening (see below on where to go for that). You can drive only when accompanied by a licensed driver over age 21 (who is riding in the front seat). You can’t drive between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. You will hold a Learner Permit for 180 days before the next step. Drivers and passengers in the front seat must wear a safety belt as well as all passengers in the vehicle under the age of 18.
New state residents must have a valid permit from their previous state and qualify only for a Tennessee Learner Permit. The length of time you held a permit in your other state may be included in the 180-day period, as long as you can provide a certified driving record from the other state.
2. Intermediate Restricted License. You must be 16 and pass the road skills test (see below on where to go for that). You must have held a valid Learner Permit for a minimum of 180 days. You must have no tickets for driving offenses that add up to six points on your driving record during the immediate 180 days preceding your application. Your parent, legal guardian or licensed driving instructor must verify that you have 50 hours (including 10 hours at night) of driving experience.
You’ll need the SF-1256 from the Department of Safety, which can be obtained at all Driver Services Centers or online. The SF-1256 is a certification of driving experience.
3. Intermediate Unrestricted License. You must be 17. No additional tests are required, but you must meet these conditions: You must have held the Intermediate Restricted License for one year; have no more than six points on your driving record; have not had a traffic accident that was your fault; and not have two safety belt violations.
4. Regular Driver’s License. Basically, when you turn 18 or are a high school graduate or have a high school equivalency certificate, you automatically transition to the Regular Driver’s License. The word “Intermediate” will be removed from the license when you obtain the Regular Driver’s License. However, the license will still include the “Under 21” indicators.
Here’s what young people need to know before they apply.
If you are 18 and over: You can get a regular (Class D) Tennessee driver’s license. A Class D license is required to operate a passenger vehicle. For this license, you will need to:
- Make application at any Department of Safety and Homeland Security Driver Service Center conveniently located across the state
- Provide proof of U.S. citizenship (birth certificate) or lawful permanent resident status, Proof of Identity, primary identity (i.e., photo ID or birth certificate) and secondary identity (i.e., work ID, Social Security document, school records or health insurance card)
- Provide two proofs of Tennessee residency and Social Security card
If you are under 18: You will need the above as well as the following:
- Teenage Affidavit/ Financial Responsibility form
- Proof of school attendance/progress
- Certification of 50 hours of behind-the-wheel driving experience, for Intermediate Restricted License only (Form SF-1256)
Other things that are required to obtain a driver’s license in Tennessee include:
- Taking a written knowledge exam (see the next section for more information)
- Taking a road skills test and vision screening
- Being prepared to pay a fee
Take a Practice Written Test
Study up for the written portion of your driver exam by downloading the “Tennessee Comprehensive Driver License Manual.” You’ll do this to obtain a Learner Permit.
Where You Go and What You Need
You may apply for a Learner Permit or Intermediate License at any full-service Driver Services Center by providing the proper documentation and forms. Find additional information about requirements on the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security's website.
Find testing locations at the TN.gov Driver Services website by searching for a Driver Services Center by city or by county.
Taking the Road Test
Making an appointment for your road test is easy.
Just head to the TN.gov Driver Services page and follow the instructions or call 866-849-3548.
Don’t be late! Arrive 15 minutes before your appointment. If you show up more than five minutes after your scheduled time, you will not be allowed to test. Also, you’ll need your own car in working order with the proper registration.
If you have questions about driver’s license appointments, contact:
Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security
Getting a General Identification License (ID)
Those who aren’t seeking a driver’s license or who have limitations in obtaining one can still receive an “Identification Only” license. No testing is required to obtain one, but if applicants are under age 18, their parent or legal guardian must complete a portion of the Teenage Affidavit/ Financial Responsibility form, at the time of application.
There are two types of general IDs:
- The Expiring Identification License may be issued to any person not currently holding a valid driver’s license who presents positive proof of identification and all other requirements needed to obtain a Tennessee driver’s license.
- The Permanent Identification License is for anyone who is intellectually or physically disabled. In addition to presenting a positive proof of identity, applicants must submit a certified statement from a licensed medical doctor stating they are unable to operate a vehicle. Those who qualify for this ID may receive it free of charge. Permanent Identification Licenses do not expire.