When you have a brand-new license and a new car, you might be eager to hit the road as soon as possible. Before you back out of the driveway, ensure that you and your vehicle meet all the legal requirements.
Auto insurance, vehicle registration, and the issuance of driver's licenses are regulated at the state level instead of through federal law. Most states require that drivers maintain a minimum level of car insurance so they can pay for medical and property bills after an accident. Some states also regulate vehicle emissions to keep the air clean.
This section provides state-specific links related to these topics, frequently asked questions about vehicle inspections, and more.
Getting Your Driver's License
Before you can drive, you will need a driver's license identification card (ID). Your ID card will contain information like your date of birth, address, and photograph. It will also feature a unique driver's license number. Your license information can help verify your identity at a traffic stop or in official paperwork.
To get a license, you must meet the requirements in your state, which may include:
- Your age
- A driving test behind the wheel
- A written traffic safety exam or a driver's education program
- Documents to prove your residency and identity
- A social security number
- A completed application form
- Payment of a license fee
The specific requirements depend on local laws, so check with your local driving-related agency before you apply for a license or schedule a road test. In most states, this agency is the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Department of Transportation.
Some states allow you to begin the application process online and then finish the process in person at a service center. Other states require you to apply in person at a DMV office location.
Types of Driver's Licenses
There are different categories of driver's licenses, such as:
- A provisional license, which is also known as a learner's permit because it allows new drivers to practice on the road
- Standard driver's licenses
- Commercial driver's licenses (CDLs) for large trucks and semis
- Licenses for recreational vehicles like boats and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs)
- Restricted licenses, which limit driving privileges based on specific circumstances like a medical condition or transportation to work
Each type of driver's license has a unique set of application requirements. The rules for using and keeping your license can also depend on the type of license you get.
Losing Your Driver's License
Driving is a privilege, not a right. Because driving is inherently dangerous, states hold a lot of control over who can and can't have this privilege. Revocation, cancellation, or suspension of a license are ways a driver can lose their driving privileges.
The government may revoke your license for various reasons, such as:
- Breaking the speed limit
- Driving without insurance
- Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI/DWI)
- Failing to pay a fine, answer a summons, or file an accident report when required
All states also have implied consent laws, which means that motorists agree to take a breath test or another type of alcohol test if a law enforcement officer decides to require one. Refusing the officer's request can result in an automatic license suspension. This suspension can happen even if the rest of your driver history is positive.
Many states use a point system. Traffic violations carry different point values. The state adds these points to a person's driving record after they break the law. Accruing too many points on a driver's record in a given period may result in the suspension or revocation of a license. Typically, this means the person can't drive and must wait for a set time before they can apply for a license reinstatement.
Certain criminal convictions like DUI/DWI offenses can lead to a license suspension in some states. Some states will suspend or revoke a license if the driver owes unpaid child support.
How Vehicle Registration Works
Vehicle registration is a process that allows the government to track whether a vehicle is compliant with local laws and allowed on the road. Before you can drive a car that you own, you must register it with your state.
You can complete registration with your local DMV. You will need an auto insurance policy that meets your state's minimum coverage amount to do so.
Once you register your vehicle, you will get a unique license plate. You may also receive tabs, which are stickers that prove that your vehicle's registration is up to date. You'll attach these stickers to your license plate if your state requires it.
Vehicle owners must renew their registration before it expires. Renewal typically involves paying a fee and replacing the old stickers with new ones, if applicable.
Following Vehicle Rules of the Road
Your vehicle must also fit safety and legal requirements before you can drive it on public roads. State traffic laws describe vehicle safety standards and illegal features.
Whenever you plan to drive, check that your vehicle follows the rules involving:
- Safety features like turn signals, headlights, seatbelts and brakes
- Visibility of your license plate
- Illegal vehicle modifications like tinted windows and light bars
- Illegal decorations or personal items that block visibility
- Emissions and environmental standards
It is important to check the law before buying or modifying a vehicle. You could face fines and tickets if you fail to follow local vehicle laws. You may also raise your risk of a dangerous collision.