Washington uses a graduated driver's licensing system (GDLS) to advance unlicensed drivers from an instruction permit to an intermediate license and then finally to a valid driver’s license.
At age 15, Washington teens who are enrolled in a driver’s education course can apply for an instruction or learner's permit. Teens not enrolled in driver’s education must be 15-and-a-half years old to apply for a permit. The application must include proof of residency, proof of identification, and a “Parental Authorization Affidavit.” The applicant must then pass the vision exam and a test covering local traffic signs and traffic laws to receive the permit. The written exam can be waived for driver’s education enrollees.
An instruction permit is valid for one year and authorizes the holder to drive only under the direct supervision of a driver’s education instructor or licensed adult who has been licensed for at least five years. All minor drivers are also prohibited from using a cellphone while driving.
The intermediate driver’s license is available to teens who have turned 16 years old and have held a permit for at least six months. The teen must also provide a driver’s education completion certificate and signed confirmation of at least 50 hours of supervised driving time (including ten nighttime hours). For the first six months prior to application, the applicant cannot have had any at-fault accidents or tickets. And while holding the permit, the applicant cannot have had any drug or DUI convictions. After satisfying all the application requirements, the teen can take the driving test to obtain an intermediate driver’s license.
An intermediate driver’s license permits the holder to drive unsupervised except from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., when the teen driver must be supervised by a parent, guardian, or licensed driver who’s at least 25 years old. The holder is prohibited from using a cellphone or other electronic device while driving.
During the first six months of licensure, a teen is prohibited from carrying any non-family member passengers who are under 20 years of age. After the six-month period, the teen can transport up to three non-family member passengers who are younger than 20 years old.
After holding an intermediate license for 12 months without any tickets or at-fault accidents, the curfew and passenger restrictions are lifted.
Any traffic tickets or restriction violations will result in notification to the teen’s parents. On a second occurrence, the teen’s license will be suspended for six months. A third occurrence will result in license suspension until the teen turns 18 years old.
After turning 18 years old, the intermediate license automatically becomes an unrestricted license.
Before any driver can lawfully operate a vehicle in Washington, the vehicle must be properly insured. Washington mandatory liability insurance must include at least $25,000 bodily injury per person, $50,000 bodily injury per accident, and $10,000 property damage per accident.
Failure to have valid insurance is a traffic infraction carrying a $250 fine. The judge might reduce the fine if proof of then-valid insurance is shown or proof of insurance is obtained after the violation. The judge can also suspend the driver’s license until proof of insurance is obtained.