In the U.S., Canada and many other countries, an individual may receive a provisional driver's license to operate an automobile in certain, restricted circumstances. This type of license is typically issued to teenaged boys and girls, but is sometimes issued to older drivers as well. In the U.S. and Canada, this sort of document is termed a learner's permit or instruction permit. In the U.K., such a license is called a provisional driver's license and, in France, the program is named Apprentissage Anticipé de la Conduite (AAC).

Issuance of a learner's permit sometimes assumes enrollment in, or completion of a general driver's education course. Likewise, a learner's permit is usually required to complete the practical portion of driver's education (the part where the kid actually drives a car).

In the U.S., drivers are licensed by the states, therefore the qualifications and restrictions vary from one place to another. Likewise, in Canada, each province has its own rules and regulations for learner's permits. In order to secure a learner's permit, all states and provinces require several tests, including: vision, general driving aptitude and often a specific test such as a driving simulator or road signs knowledge test. The average age for a learner's permit is 16, although the age is 15 or even 14 in some places. Some of the various stipulations and requirements are:

  • All states, provinces and other countries that I can find anything out about require a licensed adult driver to be in the front seat with the young person at all times. Some stipulate a minimum age for this driver, 21 being typical, but the age is 30 in some places.
  • There is often a maximum number of people who may be in the car with the young driver at any time. This number is usually one or two at most.
  • Most states place a limit on the size of the vehicle that the learner may drive. In some places light trucks, such as pickups and SUVs may not be driven by a kid with a learner's permit.
  • Certain provinces in Canada have a two-step program where a kid may get a full driver's license without the learner's permit, but with various restrictions, of course.
  • In some states, a young person with a learner's permit may not drive after dark.

Here in Texas, the provisions of a learner's permit seem to change almost annually (this seems to be true in many states). Insurance companies, parents' groups and law enforcement officials work to revise the legal code to ensure greater safety for young drivers. At this moment, it is possible to get an permit at the age of 15. The kid may then drive with accompanying adult and no more than one other passenger (although a complex exemption for adult family members exists). The young person may not drive between midnight and 5 a.m. except in an emergency. At the age of 16, assuming the kid has successfully completed a driver's education course and held the instruction permit for at least six months with no problems, a driver's license may be applied for.

Growing up here in the late 1970s, learner's permits were available at age 15, and, although the young driver was legally supposed to be accompanied by a licensed adult driver in the front seat at all times, this restriction was scarcely noted back then. It was possible for a careful kid who knew how to stay out of trouble to spend many happy hours joyriding alone or with friends.

Many other countries have probationary licensing for kids: there is a similar sort of program in the U.K. At the age of 17, young people can get a provisional driver's license which has similar restrictions to the American learner's permit. Once provisionally licensed, the young person can take a written and practical test to get the real deal.

The laws for this sort of licensing appear to be similar in many countries of Europe, although not identical (I had thought that the European Union was doing a sort of universal driver's licensing ... silly me!). In France, the driving age is 18, but at 16 a kid can receive an accompanied driving permit (after passing a general knowledge test) allowing him or her to drive while accompanied by a licensed adult in the front seat at all times. Meanwhile, in Norway, it is possible for a young person to drive at age 16 without such permit, but with an accompanying parent and several other restrictions. In the Netherlands, the accompanied driving program issues licenses to 16-year olds, who are allowed to drive while accompanied by an adult until the age of 18, when they may qualify for a full driver's license. Many of these programs have been quite successful at reducing the accident rate among young people.


References:
A quick Google search will tell you the facts about many states' requirements for licensing. Additionally, Teen TV has a driver's license resource at http://teentvmovies.about.com/od/driverlicensingus/ to let young people know what the requirements are in all 50 states.
Anglo info: http://riviera.angloinfo.com/information/1/drivlicence.asp
Texas Department of Public Safety: http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/director_staff/public_information/pr122101.htm
UCL - German Legal News: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/laws/global_law/legal-news/german/index.shtml?admin
Thanks to wertperch for the U.K. info, LeoDV for info about France, SharQ for info about U.K. and Norway and Palpz for the info about Canadian rules

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