Tennessee uses a graduated license system to advance unlicensed drivers from a learner permit to a valid driver's license.
At age 15, Tennessee teens can apply for a learner permit by submitting the application, a social security card, and proof of residency to the local Driver Services office. An application must include a diploma or certification from the teen's school indicating enrollment and satisfactory academic progress. The applicant must then pass the vision exam and a test covering DUI information and Tennessee traffic signs and traffic laws to receive a learner permit.
A learner permit authorizes the holder to drive from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. under the front-seat supervision of a licensed adult age 21 or older. All passengers must wear seatbelts.
All minor drivers must have written consent from a parent or guardian who will be held liable for any damage resulting from the teen's negligence. The consent must be witnessed by a notary or signed at the Driver Services office. The parent or guardian can revoke this consent at any point and cancel the teen's license.
At 16 years old, permit holders can apply for an intermediate license. The applicant must have held a learner permit for at least 180 days without accumulating six or more traffic violation points. The parent must sign the application and certify that the teen completed 50 hours of supervised driving, including ten nighttime hours. After passing the behind-the-wheel driving test, the teen driver will receive the intermediate license.
The intermediate license has the word "INTERMEDIATE" printed on the front and authorizes the holder to drive unsupervised during most of the day. However, the holder can't drive between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless:
Only one passenger is permitted to travel with an intermediate license holder unless supervised by a licensed adult age 21 or older. Intermediate licensees are also permitted to transport siblings to and from school but must have written permission from a parent. All passengers must wear seatbelts.
Any violation of the learner permit or intermediate license restrictions will result in a $10 fine and six points. Anyone who forges a required parent permission note will have his or her license canceled until 18 years old. A driver who causes an injury accident or is caught driving with five grams or more of methamphetamines will lose his or her license until age 18.
Intermediate license holders must hold the license for at least one year before applying for an unrestricted intermediate license. This waiting period is extended 90 days if the driver:
If the driver commits two moving violations while holding an intermediate license, completion of a certified driver's education course will be required before the driver can obtain an unrestricted intermediate license.
All learner permit and intermediate license holders are prohibited from using a cellphone while driving. A violation is a class C misdemeanor, which carries a $50 fine and adds 90 days to the unrestricted intermediate license waiting period.
After holding the intermediate license for 12 months, the teen is eligible for an unrestricted intermediate license. This license still shows "INTERMEDIATE" on the front but the driver isn't subject to any curfew or passenger restrictions. Whether the license is restricted or not, when the teen driver reaches 18 years old or graduates from high school, the "INTERMEDIATE" notation is removed along with any remaining restrictions.
Any minor who drops out of school or fails to maintain satisfactory academic progress faces license suspension.
Under certain circumstances, restricted licenses may be available to younger teens. A special restricted license is available to 15-year-old teens to operate motorized bicycles. To get the license, the teen must pass the required driving test and may be subject to special restrictions. A hardship license is available to 14-year old teens who can show an essential need for a driver's license. The teen must pass certain tests, and Driver Services can impose special restrictions for this type of license.
Owning and operating a vehicle in Tennessee requires proper vehicle insurance. Tennessee mandatory liability insurance must include at least $25,000 bodily injury per person, $50,000 bodily injury per accident, and $15,000 property damage per accident. A single limit maximum of $65,000 is also applicable.
A police officer can issue a citation for driving without insurance. Such a violation is a class C misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $300. Law enforcement can have the vehicle towed, and the Department of Revenue will suspend the car's registration until the owner can show proof of insurance.
Uninsured drivers who cause an injury accident can be convicted of a class A misdemeanor. Convicted motorists face fines of up to $2,500 and a maximum of 11 months and 29 days in jail. Upon receipt of a notice of conviction, the Department of Revenue will suspend the driver's license. The driver can reinstate his or her license by providing proof of insurance, paying the required fees, and retaking the driver's license examination.
An insurance violation can also be detected through the state's online insurance database. If the Department of Revenue notices a lapse in insurance, a 30-day notice will be sent to the owner, requesting compliance. Failure to comply will result in a $25 fine and a notice-to-suspend letter. Further failure to provide the requested insurance or information will result in a $100 fee, registration revocation, and a class B misdemeanor charge. A class B misdemeanor carries up to six months in jail and a maximum $500 in fines.