Oh, yes. You know you want it. The freedom of going where you want, when you want (inside of curfew, gas tank willing). The wind whipping through your luxurious locks (seriously, lighten up on the gel...). Well, you're one step closer to impressing your driving instructor—or your parents—with your Shmoopy, new-found knowledge of Driver's Licenses! First off, the most important question (okay, maybe not, but it's the first one we'll answer for ya):

Who Must Have a License?

Bond, James Bond. He has a license to kill. But if you're reading this, you're only looking for a license to operate a motor vehicle. Which decidedly is not a license to kill. And we're here to teach you the basics so you don't even kill anyone by accident. 

If you drive on public roads and are 16 years of age or older, you have to have an in-state driver's license. Period. If you don't need one, then you can stop reading right now.

And this makes sense, right? If it's a "public" road, it means everyone has paid for it with their hard-earned tax dollars. And if it's public, innocent people will be driving on it, walking on it, and biking on it. If you just want to drive up and down your parents' driveway, then hey, you're good. You don't need a license to do that. As long as Mom and Dad are cool with it, rock on.

Exceptions to the License Rule

  • Military/Government: If you're military personnel or a federal employee driving a United States government vehicle on official business—or in Afghanistan, Iraq, or somewhere where a state driver's license really isn't a big concern—then you don't need a state license, as long as you have a valid license from your home state. Family members of servicemen and women stationed in state are exempt as well, unless that person gains employment off the base.
  • Students: If you're a nonresident attending college in state, then you don't need a state driver's license. But you'll need a license from your home state, obviously. 
  • Farm: If you're schlepping Grandpa's cornhusker from the southern end of the farm to the northern end of the farm, and you have to cross a public road, that's actually cool. You don't need a license. But if you go to pick up your date at her house on Cherry Avenue in a loader with the crane thing attached, expect a ticket. And don't expect your date to be too psyched, either.
  • Foreigners: Let's say you live in a country other than the United States. While there are certain exceptions and restrictions that you might want to look up, for the most part, if you can drive there, you can drive in state.
  • Off-Road: Snowmobiles (Where are you driving a snowmobile in state?), cats, honkers, buggies, jeepers, bleepblops and other off-road vehicles don't require you to have a license if you have to cross a road as long as they're registered (a.k.a. have a license plate and necessary stickers). You can't drive 'em on the roads, but you can cross the road like the chicken, just to get to the other side. You just can't cross freeways in any of these unless you like eating metal at 65 miles per hour.

License Classes: Bring an Apple for the Teacher (Types of Licenses)

A "normal" license is a non-commercial Class D license. That is, with a Class D, you can drive all the normal cars that you would normally drive out of your friendly Toyota dealer's show lot.* 

With that Class D license, you can also drive pretty much any vehicle that's less than 26,000 pounds, as long as you're not transporting hazardous materials or towing a trailer with a gross weight of over 10,000 pounds. You also can't drive a bus if it's designed to transport more than 15 people including the driver. 

So, what types of driving does that cover?

  • A recreational vehicle that is less than 26,000 pounds
  • A giant van or mini bus that seats between 10 and 15 people
  • A golf ball
  • Your parents crazy

Note that farmers and drivers of authorized emergency vehicles who are exempt from obtaining a commercial driver's license are still required to obtain a Class D license.

Also, you're allowed to tow another vehicle, but you can't tow more than one vehicle at a time. That's just nonsensical.

Other License Classes

So, Class D is the biggie. It's the license most people have. But there are a ton of others that you can get. Check 'em out on your state's Driver's License website.

  • Commercial Class A (CDL-A)
  • Commercial Class B (CDL-B)
  • Commercial Class C (CDL-C)
  • Class M—The "M" stands for something that rhymes with "Shmotorcycle," obviously.
  • Class V—This one's for boats.

*This article is in no way affiliated with Toyota.

Diplomatic Driver Licenses

If you are a nonresident and have a diplomatic driver license issued by the U.S. Department of State, are you exempt from driver licensing requirements? To give you the diplomatic answer: yes. Doesn’t apply to you? Didn’t think so. Let’s move on.

Unlicensed Drivers Should Only Be Driving Golf Balls

Obviously you would get in trouble for driving without a license. But you can also get in quite a bit of trouble if another unlicensed driver is caught tooling around in your wheels. So stop letting your friends borrow dad’s pickup. We don’t care who they’re buying beer for.

If you are hiring someone to drive a commercial vehicle or to transport hazardous materials (for example, if they are to be carting around potentially harmful works of literature such as Lord of the Flies and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), then that person must have the proper license for the job. We doubt anyone reading this guide will currently be in such a position, but you may have minions someday—who knows? Be careful, though; world domination is a tough racket to break into.

Getting the License Itself (Boo Hiss, Paperwork)

You've heard the joke that the job's not done until the paperwork's finished. DPS, we're pointing fingers.

When you go to the DPS, you need to bring

  1. a source of primary identification, like your passport (the real one, not the one you bought at Comic-Con that says you're from Narnia).
  2. a secondary form of identification.
  3. something that shows your social security number.

There are a bunch of corner cases here: if your name has been changed, if you're married, if you've moved from out of state, or if you're a non-U.S. citizen. If you fall into one of these categories, do your homework.

Pro tip: Make sure your documents are on the state's accepted list first before waiting in line, folks. (And make sure you have all of them, too.)

You'll also have to take a vision test. If you wear glasses for it, you'll have to wear 'em whenever you drive. If your vision's really bad, you'll be referred to a vision specialist. Sound onerous as a restriction? Not if you're another driver on the road.

Last but not least, you'll need to foot the bill. Who are we kidding? Have Mom foot the bill.

Speaking of your mom—no, seriously—if you're under 18, your license application must be signed by a parent or guardian in front of the examiner or a notary public. So, don't try to forge it.