Teen Driving Laws in North Carolina

A teenager with a steering wheel. It’s a combination that sends shivers down some adults’ spines — especially parents! Nonetheless, the fact is that teenagers of proper age and licensure have a right to use North Carolina’s roadways along with the rest of us… provided they abide by certain special rules.

The NC Teen Driving Law has changed a lot over the years. If you’re old enough to have kids of your own, chances are the rules aren’t the same today as when you were first earning your license.

Statistically speaking, we know that teenagers are involved in more auto accidents than any other age group, and that the severity of those accidents is often especially catastrophic. We also know that teenagers are more prone to particular kinds of accidents. Among them: texting while driving, DUI, and distractions caused by friends on the passenger side or in the backseat. Experience plays a role too.

In response to these growing dangers and the rising tide of teenage auto accident fatalities, North Carolina’s legislature frequently revisits the NC Teen Driving Law to see whether they can improve safety while still honoring a sixteen year old’s time-honored rite of passage.

The truth is that teenagers can make for perfectly safe drivers. It just requires education, practice, responsibility, and an unwavering commitment to safety behind the wheel.

Here at DeMayo Law Offices ®, we get a lot of questions from concerned parents and accident victims about the current state of the law for teenage drivers in North Carolina and whether any special protections apply for those who find themselves injured by a negligent teen.

The information that follows provides an overview of the NC Teen Driving Law, including safety tips, resources for parents, helpful hints for student drivers, and much more. We encourage you to familiarize yourself with your rights, options, and opportunities. Remember, though, that you should talk with an experienced Charlotte auto accident attorney before drawing any conclusions about your own interests or responsibilities under the law.

The NC Teen Driving Law: An Overview


Everyone knows that you get your driver’s license when you turn 16. But it isn’t quite that simple — at least not in North Carolina, not anymore.

In fact, the state has laid out a staggered series of steps that teenagers must go through before graduating to an adult driver’s license. It spans a total of four years, ranging from age 14 to 18.

The process looks like this:

  • Driver’s Education — Beginning at age 14 ½ (finally, after years of your kids reminding you about their half-birthdays, it has some legal significance!), high school students are eligible to enroll in a driver’s education program. Usually available through the school itself, these classes provide essential education about handling an automobile and the basic rules of the road. Passing Driver’s Ed, which includes an actual driving test, is strictly required before moving on to the next step.


  • Learner’s Permit (5 a.m. to 9 p.m. only) — Beginning at age 15, a teenager who has successfully completed Driver’s Ed can begin to drive on public roads under the supervision of an adult. The adult must have had their own driver’s license for at least five years, must be seated in the passenger seat at all times, and must be a parent/guardian or otherwise approved by the parent/guardian. Seatbelts are required for the driver and every passenger. Cell phone use is strictly forbidden except in emergencies to call 911, a doctor, an emergency responder, or a parent/guardian.


  • Learner’s Permit (All Times) — After six months of driving with a learner’s permit, teens are no longer restricted to the daily window of 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. All of the other learner’s permit restrictions remain in effect.


  • Limited Provisional License — At age 16, provided that the teenager has completed 12 months of Learner’s Permit driving without any violations, drivers may apply for a Limited Provisional License. The application requires proof of insurance and a parent’s consent, and the teenager must have also completed at least 60 hours of driving practice (including at least 10 at night). During the hours of 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., the Limited Provisional License acts as a regular adult driver’s license except that the mobile phone restrictions remain in effect, and there may be no more than 1 passenger under the age of 21 at any time (unless they are an immediate family member or there is a qualifying adult supervisor in the front passenger seat). Outside of those hours, the Limited Provisional License falls within the same rules that govern the Learner’s Permit (All Times) above.


  • Full Provisional License — After six months of driving with a Limited Provisional License, teens graduate to the Full Provisional License, which is identical to a regular driver’s license except that the mobile phone restrictions remain in effect. To apply for a Full Provisional License, the driver must not have received any driving violations and must have completed an additional 12 hours of behind-the-wheel driving practice (including at least 6 at night).


  • Regular Driver’s License — Finally, at age 18, drivers who have completed all the preceding steps become eligible for a full and unrestricted adult driver’s license. The new license can be obtained from the DMV.


As you can see, earning a North Carolina driver’s license is no easy task. Teenagers have their work cut out for them. Unfortunately, despite these strenuous requirements, teen driving remains a dangerous force on our state’s roads. That’s why it’s so important to practice good safety. Let’s look at a few helpful hints below.

Teenager Driving Safety Tips: Making the Most of the NC Teen Driving Law


It’s one thing to understand the NC Teen Driving Law. It’s another to make it work for you and your family. Safety is everything, and teenagers sometimes struggle to understand the enormous difficulty and responsibility of operating a motor vehicle.

The following teenager driving safety tips can help your kids make the right decisions behind the wheel:


  • Put Down the Phone. The easiest habits to break are the ones that never form. Texting and driving is one of the deadliest forces in the world, especially where teenagers are concerned. Drivers should learn from an early age that cell phones simply aren’t part of the picture.


  • Texting Isn’t the Only Distraction. With all the focus on “intextication” these days, it’s easy to forget that other distractions may prove just as deadly. Eating, applying makeup, playing with the radio, or talking to passengers can all be dangerous distractions.


  • Consider a Defense Driving Course. Driver’s Education is great, but it’s really only the beginning of a young person’s highway education. Many families find great comfort and education in a private defensive driving course. The DMV offers some information on their website. You may also consider contacting your local driver’s education instructor, local DMV office, AAA bureau, or a trusted attorney for recommendations. Friends and family can be great resources too.


  • Safety Ratings Matter. Price is always a big factor in a young driver’s first car-purchase decision, but don’t skimp on the safety features just to save a few bucks. Vehicles with high safety ratings can save lives.


  • Don’t Team Teens Up. Studies show that a car with multiple teenagers inside is more likely to cause an accident than one with just a single teen driver.

Injured? Talk to a Charlotte Auto Accident Attorney.


A teenager’s first years on the road can be an exciting but nerve-racking time. Here at the DeMayo Law Offices, L.L.P. ®, we know how sensitive the issue can be for parents and teenagers alike — not to mention all the other innocent drivers and passengers who may be exposed to youthful recklessness on the roads.

We want everyone to be as safe as possible out there. The overwhelming majority of teenage auto accidents in North Carolina are utterly preventable. Let’s all do our part to reverse the trend and bring the statistics to an all-time low.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an auto accident in North Carolina and a teenage driver was involved, an experienced Charlotte auto accident attorney at DeMayo Law Offices, L.L.P. ® can help. We’ll treat you and your family with the fairness and respect you deserve.

We will not charge for our services unless there is a successful outcome in your case. We also offer free consultations in person and over the phone. These are available right now, and they’ll help you better understand your rights under North Carolina auto accident law.

Please contact us to set up a free consultation today.

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With North Carolina office locations in Charlotte, Hickory, Monroe and in Columbia, South Carolina, DeMayo Law Offices have been serving the state since 1992. You can contact us 24/7 and if you are unable to come to us - we will come to you.


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