Everything You Need to Know About Limited Learner’s Permits

My eldest child turned 15 last week. Everyone in North Carolina knows what that means . . . it is learner’s permit time. Unfortunately, however, we were not able to run over to DMV on his birthday and get his permit. We are still working on some prerequisites. If someone near and dear to you is approaching this milestone birthday, here is what you need to know.

Classroom instruction. All public high schools in North Carolina must offer driver’s education for students  (including students who are home-schooled or are enrolled in private schools). G.S. 115C-215(a). This instruction, which consists of 30 classroom hours, must be provided outside of regular school hours. See 16 NCAC 06E .0301(a)(10). Thus, at my son’s high school, driver’s education classes are held after school, during winter break, and during the summer. Students may not enroll in the classroom portion of driver’s education until they are older than 14 years and six months. After completing the classroom portion of the course, a student may receive instruction in actual driving.

Behind-the-wheel instruction. Students must complete 6 hours of behind-the-wheel instruction.  G.S. 115C-215(b)(3). Each driving session conducted through the school must involve at least two but not more than four students.  See 16 NCAC 06E .0301(a)(6).

The cost. Schools may charge up to $65 to each student-participant to offset the cost of providing driver education, and must provide a process for reducing or waiving the fee for students who are unable to pay. G.S. 115C-216(g). The instruction may be provided by driver education instructors who are school employees or through public or private entitles that have contracted with the local board of education to provide driver education. G.S. 115C-215(d), (e).

Avoiding the waiting list. Due to the demand for driver instruction in my county, my son had to wait a few months after submitting his application before he was enrolled driver education. Someone who wants to avoid the line may complete a course of driver instruction at a licensed commercial driver training school in lieu of school-based instruction. G.S. 20-11(b)(1).

Driving eligibility certificate. Now that my son has completed the classroom instruction and the six hours of driving, he has to obtain a driving eligibility certificate from his school. The school principal, or her designee, must verify that the applicant meets one of the following requirements:

  1. The person is currently enrolled in school and is making progress toward obtaining a high school diploma or its equivalent;
  2. A substantial hardship would be placed on the person or the person’s family if the person does not receive a certificate; or
  3. The person cannot make progress toward obtaining a high school diploma or its equivalent.

The principal or her designee must also verify that my son was not subject to certain disqualifying disciplinary actions by the school. G.S. 20-11(n)(1a). A student who has been expelled, suspended for more than 10 consecutive days or assigned to an alternative educational setting for more than 10 consecutive days for possessing alcohol, drugs, or weapons on school property or assaulting school personnel is ineligible for a certificate for a period of time following the disciplinary action. G.S. 20-11(n1) (captioned “Lose Control; Lose License”).

A parent or guardian who completes the driving eligibility certificate form gives the school permission to notify DMV if the student ceases to be enrolled in the school, fails to make the required progress toward a high school diploma, or is subject to a disqualifying disciplinary action.

Before heading to DMV.  The applicant should study the driver handbook he or she received in class.  To obtain a learner’s permit, a person must pass a written test administered by DMV.  A 2014 report by the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division stated that nearly half of the students taking the DMV license test from 2007 to 2013 failed the test—including students making multiple attempts. The report noted that failure rates would be higher if only first attempts were reflected in the data.

What to take to DMV. The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s website has this helpful guide to the documentation requirements. I plan to take a certified copy of my son’s birth certificate, his social security card, his driver eligibility certificate, and the documentation that he has completed classroom and behind-the-wheel driver instruction. Because DMV requires proof of residency, which can be in the form of school records, I’m also going to take his report card just in case the other documents don’t suffice. I’m not going to take proof of liability insurance since the holder of a limited learner’s permit is not considered a licensed driver for purposes of automobile insurance policies. G.S. 20-11(m). (I’m more than happy to postpone the inexperienced operator premium surcharge for a year.) [Update: When I called to make an appointment, the person I spoke to at DMV advised me to bring a DL-123 demonstrating that I had automobile insurance.]

Driving with a limited learner’s permit. When my son obtains his limited learner’s permit, he will be authorized to drive with a supervising driver seated beside him in the front seat of the vehicle. G.S. 20-11(c)(2). A supervising driver is a parent, grandparent, or guardian of the permit holder or a responsible person approved by the parent or guardian or DMV. G.S. 20-11(k). A supervising driver must be a licensed driver who has been licensed for at least five years.  At least one supervising driver must sign the application for the permit.

The supervising driver must also be sober. G.S. 20-12.1 makes it unlawful to serve as a supervising driver while under the influence of an impairing substance or after having consumed sufficient alcohol to have at any relevant time after the driving an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

Limited hours for six months. For the first six months after the permit is issued, the permit holder may drive only between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 p.m.  After the first six months, the permit holder may drive at any time.

No mobile phone use. The permit holder may not use a mobile telephone or other technology associated with a mobile telephone while driving.  (As if!)

Violations. The holder of a limited learner’s permit who violates the restriction concerning time of driving or the presence of a supervising driver commits the offense of operating a motor vehicle without a license, a Class 3 misdemeanor. G.S. 20-11(l). Failure to comply with the restriction regarding the use of a mobile telephone is an infraction punishable by a fine of $25.

Driving logs. Finally, my son and I will need to document all this quality road time we are spending together. To obtain a license after he turns 16, he will need to submit to DMV a driving log detailing at least 60 hours of driving with his limited learner’s permit. G.S. 20-11(d)(5).  At least 10 of those hours must be at night, and no more than 10 hours of driving per week may be counted toward the 60-hour requirement.

Wish me luck, folks.

9 thoughts on “Everything You Need to Know About Limited Learner’s Permits”

  1. I’m right there with you, Shea. Be prepared for your son to start criticizing your driving now too. Good luck!

  2. and it does not end there. After securing the license at 16, it is limited as to scope. E.G.: number of non-relative minors who can be in vehicle, vehicle operation hours unless have work excuse (school function not acceptable), and requirements to qualify for unlimited license 6+ months later as long as jumped through additional requirements and no tickets or accidents).

  3. Shea –

    I hope your child doesn’t need to know this, but it is an infraction rather than a class 3 misdemeanor for the holder of a limited learner’s permit to violate the restriction concerning time of driving or the presence of a supervising driver. Failure to comply with learner’s permit restrictions would be a class 3 misdemeanor under 20-35(a1)(2) since the definition of “license” includes learner’s permits, however the language of 20-11 changes the class 3 misdemeanor punishment to the infraction of “operating a motor vehicle without a license.” 20-35(a) states that when “a statute in this Article sets a different punishment for a violation of the Article, the different punishment applies,” so even though 20-35(a1)(2) says “Failure to comply with license restrictions” is a class 3 misdemeanor, 20-11 (which is also in Article 2)changes it to the infraction of driving with no operator’s license (20-7(a) which is punished under 20-35(a2)(1).

  4. Is there a penalty to the learner if he is DDing his drunk supervising driver?
    I know there is for the supervisor for supervising drunk, but will the learner get a driving without privileges?

    • If the person with a learner’s permit is driving while impaired, he has committed the crime of impaired driving. If he is 16, he will be charged as an adult. If he is 15, he likely will be subject to juvenile delinquency proceedings based on this conduct.

      • Jason: I may have misunderstood your question, so here is another try. A person with a learner’s permit cannot serve as a designated driver. If the supervising driver is impaired, then the driver who is driving with a learner’s permit commits the offense of driving with no operator’s license.

        • My son just turned 15 but he was held back when he was younger and is now an 8th grader — his middle school has never seen a driver eligibility certificate…has anyone dealt with this situation? I have no idea what to do..he’s completed the 30 hours of drivers Ed. thank you

  5. Yes, I read this entire article (very good info, but most I already know) I specifically need to know the START and STOP times each day, that qualifies for “night time driving”.


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