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To legally operate a motor vehicle in Washington state (or in any state for that matter), you must have a valid driver’s license. 

Now, the type of driver’s license you get will depend entirely on the type of vehicle you plan to drive. 

Most drivers don’t need any more than the basic license. However, there may be some exceptions. 

If you’re unsure what type of license is appropriate for you, we’ve made a complete guide on the different Washington driver’s license classifications. We’ll talk about each type so you’ll know which one to get. 

Let’s begin!

The 6 Types of Driver’s License in Washington State

The Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) currently offers the following driver’s license classifications: 

  • Instruction permit
  • Intermediate driver’s license
  • Standard driver’s license
  • Enhanced driver’s license
  • Motorcycle or trike instruction permit
  • Commercial driver’s license (CDL)

Let’s look at each one in detail. 

Instruction Permit

This allows residents to operate a non-commercial motor vehicle within Washington state, provided that they are supervised by a licensed driver with at least five years of licensed driving experience. 

This permit may not be valid in some states, so if you plan to take a trip somewhere over the weekend, we suggest you contact your intended state’s DMV to clarify requirements with them.

Intermediate Driver’s License

The intermediate driver’s license is issued to applicants who are 16 or 17 years old and meet the requirements. This type of license is for first-time applicants. 

It eases the applicant into the responsibilities of being a Washington State driver instead of throwing them straight into the throng. 

Standard Driver’s License

This type of license allows holders to operate a non-commercial motor vehicle on public roadways. It’s valid for up to six years from the date of your last birthday. 

Applicants ages 16 or 17 are given intermediate driver’s licenses while they work on completing requirements for a standard license. 

Enhanced Driver’s License

The enhanced driver’s license can be used as official identification for holders that are traveling within the United States. The EDL can also be used to cross borders to Mexico and Canada by land or sea.

You can check the Washington State DOL website for more details. 

Motorcycle or Trike Instruction Permit

If you plan to drive a two-wheel or three-wheel vehicle on the Washington State roads, then this type of license is what you need. This allows you to drive a motorcycle or a three-wheeled motorcycle-based vehicle. 

For details, you can check here

Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)

As the name suggests, this type of license allows holders to operate a commercial vehicle on public roadways. CDLs are classified into three sub-categories:

Class A – This category of CDL allows a holder to operate a combination vehicle that has a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 lbs or more — so long as the GVWR of the items/vehicle(s) in tow is over 10,000 pounds.

Class B – This type of CDL allows holders to operate any single vehicle that possesses a GVWR of 26,001 lbs or more. This includes vehicles that tow trailers that weigh 10,000 lbs (GVWR) or less. 

Additionally, any vehicles listed under Class C can be covered by a Class B license, given that it’s properly endorsed.

Class C – This allows drivers to operate vehicles that are capable of carrying 16 or more people, including the driver. This type of CDL may also be used by drivers who are transporting hazardous materials that need a placard.

Who Can Get a Driver’s License in Washington State?

Washington residents, both old and new, require a Washington State driver’s license to be able to operate a motor vehicle on the road. 

What qualifies a Washington resident? 

Here are the qualifications:

  • You’re registered to vote in this state
  • You receive payments, financial aid, or other public welfare benefits from the state or a local government
  • You’re able to get any state license at the resident rate
  • You pay in-state tuition fees as a student
  • You intend to live in this state for more than six months in any one year

For new residents who wish to drive a vehicle in Washington State, you are expected to get a driver’s license within 30 days of the date that you become a resident. 

New residents with valid out-of-state driver’s licenses need not take the knowledge and driving test when they apply for a new license. However, if you’re under 18, you’ll need to show proof that you’ve completed a driver-training course that meets Washington State standards prior to applying for a new license. 

Visitors/Nonresidents

For nonresidents or short-term visitors, you can operate a motor vehicle in Washington State roadways as long as you have a valid driver’s license from your home state, province, territory, or country. Additionally, you must be at least 16 years old upon your visit. 

This exemption applies to the following: 

  • Armed Force members on active duty, members of the foreign military on temporary duty, as well as their children and spouses
  • Students who are in the state to further their education but are considered nonresidents
  • Visiting employees tasked to perform short-term responsibilities for their company/business
  • Foreign tourists, business people, and teachers who are in the state for up to one year

What Are the Requirements to Get a Standard Driver’s License in Washington State?

Before you’re presented with a standard driver’s license in Washington State, there are several requirements you must meet, including:

  • Being at least 16 years old upon the time of application and issuance of your license
  • Be a Washington (WA) resident
  • Successfully complete a Washington State-approved driver training course

Note: Online and parent-taught traffic safety courses are currently not approved in WA. Additionally, if your teen completes a course in another state it must meet WA minimum requirements.

  • Hold a WA instruction permit for at least 6 months

This includes your out-of-state or out-of-country instruction permit or license.

  • The applicant must not have committed any of the following:
  1. Traffic violations within 6 months before the application date 
  2. Drug and/or alcohol offense while in possession of an instruction permit

The Bottom Line

Getting your driver’s license for the first time can be a confusing process. Hopefully, we were able to take some of the confusion away with this guide. 

Before starting your application, it’s important to identify the type of license you want/need. This can make the whole process run more smoothly and decrease the confusion that you feel along the way.

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