California DMV Handbook and Regulations FAQ

Although each person looking to acquire an official California driver’s license is required to know all of the information presented within the California DMV’s official handbook, the following are some of the most frequently asked questions about applying for a license and/or driving on California roads.
Who is required to have a California driver’s license?
Any California resident that wishes to drive on public roads, highways, and streets or use public parking facilities is required to have a valid California driver’s license. The only exceptions are for:
  • Government officers or employees operating a government controlled vehicle for federal business purposes.
  • Those driving or operating husbandry vehicles that are not moved or operated over actual highways.
  • Those driving or operating off-highway vehicles over or across an actual highway.
California residents that wish to take advantage of driving privileges are required to apply for their license within 10 days of becoming a resident.
How is California residency defined by the DMV?
Most people establish residency by providing proof that they live at an address within the state. You are also considered a resident of California if you meet any of the following criteria:
  • You are registered to vote in California state elections.
  • You pay resident’s tuition at an established California university or college.
  • You have filed for a home owner’s property tax exemption.
  • You receive any privileges or benefits not normally given to those that aren’t residents.
What documents do I need to bring to apply for a California driver’s license?
You will need to provide government-official documents that establish not only your identity and your residency, but also your birthdate and your social security number. Acceptable documents proving legal presence include:
  • U.S. birth certificate
  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. Armed Forces ID
  • Certificate of Naturalization
  • Permanent resident card
  • Foreign passport in tandem with valid I-94
Documents that provide true name verification include:
  • Name change documents
  • Adoption documents
  • Marriage certificate or registration document
  • Dissolution of marriage documents bearing your legal name
For an exhaustive list of accepted documents, visit the official California DMV website.
What are the requirements for minors seeking a California driver’s permit?
In California, all permit applicants under the age of 18 will need to have their application signed by a parent or guardian. If the applicant’s parents have joint custody, then both their signatures are required. The same goes for an application for a change in license class. All minor applicants must also meet the following requirements:
  • Be a minimum of 15 ½ years old
  • Complete the official California DMV Driver License of Identification Card Application (DL-44)
  • Pass standard testing on California traffic laws and road sign knowledge.
  • Provide proof of completing driver’s education or enrollment in an approved integrated training program if between 15 ½ and 17 ½ years of age.
In order to qualify for an official driver’s license, you must be at least 16 years old and pass all required testing. If you fail the driver’s test, you must wait a minimum of one week before retaking it.
Where can I go to take my driver’s test?
In order to obtain a California driver’s license, you must pass a written test, a behind-the-wheel driving test, and a vision test. All three of these tests can be administered at any California DMV field office offering license-related services. You can make an appointment or obtain locations of nearby field offices by visiting or calling 1-800-777-0133 during applicable business hours.
What do I need to bring when I arrive to take my behind-the-wheel test?
You will need to bring your instruction permit with you if you’re a new applicant or your old driver’s license if you are not. You will also need to bring a licensed driver aged 18 or older and a vehicle that is properly registered. The vehicle must also be 100% safe to drive. The brakes, horn, signals, and lights must all work to standards. Tires cannot be bald or otherwise unsafe. You must also arrive with proof that the vehicle is properly insured.
How do I change my name, address, or other legal information as shown on my driver’s license?
If you legally change your name because you’ve gotten married or for any other reason, make sure you’ve first changed your name with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Bring your current license along with a valid document verifying your name change (such as your marriage certificate). Complete the application and pay the associated fee. You will then provide the DMV with a new fingerprint and signature, as well as have a new photo taken so that a new license can be issued. If you change your address, you are required to inform the DMV within 10 days of your relocation. You may do this online at the official California DMV website or download an official change of address form to fill out and mail in. You will not be issued a new license, nor will you be required to pay any fees.
To what extent are pedestrians required to understand California road regulations and traffic laws?
All pedestrians should be sure that they are aware of traffic conditions and applicable rules of the road for the sake of safety. For instance, they should know who has the right-of-way in a given situation – them or the driver. However, drivers should never simply assume every pedestrian understands the rules and the law. Drivers and pedestrians alike are required to obey traffic signals at all times. Pedestrians are not allowed to be present on highway crossings, toll bridges, or any other roadways not equipped with a sidewalk and signs that state pedestrian traffic is allowed.
What is California’s “Basic Speed Law”?
The California “Basic Speed Law” states that a given driver may never drive more quickly than is considered safe for current conditions. For instance, if the speed limit is 55 mph but a thick fog is present, it’s possible to be cited for driving too fast even if you were only going 45 mph. In addition to posted speed limits, your driving speed should always be determined by road surface (bumpy, smooth, and so forth), weather conditions, presence of cyclists or pedestrians, and the number/speed of other vehicles present on the road.
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