If you think that a probationary license is limited to those on criminal probation, you are entirely wrong. But the two uses of the term "probation" are related. Both involve a period of proving oneself, of showing that you know the rules of the road and will follow them. In the case of a probationary license, you can take this literally, since it is a driving privilege that allows a new driver to demonstrate that she is ready for the freeway.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
A probationary license is a restricted driver's license issued to young drivers after they have held their permit for the required time and met other requirements.
How Do You Get a Probationary License?
When a state allows teens to drive, it often imposes special requirements on their permissions to make sure that they have adequate driving skills before hitting the downtown streets or the freeways. Each state fashions a set of laws to meet this end, often including driver's education requirements, a period of driving with a permit with a licensed adult in the car, logged time driving under supervision or similar restrictions for young drivers. Of course, teen drivers also have to follow the regular traffic laws including speed laws, passing, parking and turning regulations.
In some states, the motor vehicles department regulates teen drivers by labeling the permission they receive as "probationary." For example, Indiana allows young people at least 16 years old to apply for driving privileges in the state, but if they are under the age of 21 years, the Indiana driver's license they receive is considered probationary. Other states, like New York and Connecticut, do much the same thing by other means, without calling the license probationary.
To obtain a probationary driver's license in Indiana, a young person must be at least 16 years old and three months if they have passed a driver's education class, or 16 years old and 9 months if they haven't. Young people must pass the permit test and hold the permit for at least six months before applying for the probationary license, driving only with an adult passenger in the car and maintaining a supervised driving log. They must pass the driving skills test and the vision test. They must also get a parent or other adult to co-sign for financial liability. Further, they must get a photo taken and pay the fees involved.
How Long Do You Have a Probationary License?
Again, each state has its own rules. In Indiana, a person's license is considered probationary until she turns 21 years old. The license can be renewed after the driver turns 21, and it expires 30 days following the driver's 21st birthday.
Can Your Probationary License Be Suspended?
A probationary license comes with restrictions, and it can be suspended for violation of them. For example, in Indiana, you'll have quite a few rules. Violation of any of the restrictions can result in a license suspension. Of course, a probationary license can also be suspended for all of the usual suspects, like getting a DUI, driving without insurance, or racking up too many moving violations.
Those driving on a probationary license cannot use any type of telecommunication device while driving other than making calls to 911, the emergency number. During the first 180 days, a probationary driver cannot drive at night (between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.), and after that, he cannot drive during certain night hours. Likewise, a probationary license only lets a driver travel alone to or from work, a school-sanctioned activity or a religious event. Otherwise, he must have as a passenger a licensed driver who is at least 25 years old in the front seat of the vehicle. If the young driver is married, a spouse at least 21 years old with driving privileges can serve as the passenger.