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Driver's Licenses FAQ

This article provides answers to common questions about driver licensing. Learn if other states recognize your driver's license, penalties for driving with a suspended license, learners' permit details, and more.

Can I drive in another state with my current license? What if the driving age in the other state is lower?

Yes, your driver's license is valid in every state. But if you become a permanent resident of another state, you have to apply for a new license in that state (often within 30 days). Although your new state might not make you take a driving test, some states will require you to take a new vision or written examination.

When are you considered a permanent resident of another state? The general rule is to ask whether you intend to stay in that state. If you do, you should get an updated license. You can also ask yourself if you're paying taxes in that state. If the answer is yes, most often, you should update your license.

Attending school in another state does necessarily make you a permanent resident. Most students are there temporarily for their education. If you finish school and decide to stay, you should update your license.

If you're a young driver, check with the department of motor vehicles (DMV) in the state you will visit. Some states have lower driving ages and may not allow you to drive in another state. For example, although New York state may have a driving age of 16, New Jersey may set it at 17. A 16-year-old licensed New York driver may not be a valid driver in New Jersey.

Can a ticket from another state affect my driver's license?

Yes, it will likely affect your driver's license. Most states are part of either the Driver's License Compact or the Non-Resident Violator Compact, which allow DMVs in separate states to exchange information. This means a traffic ticket issued in another state will go to your state's DMV. This will affect your driving record as if you had gotten the ticket in your home state.

What about in other countries? Can I use my driver's license?

This varies greatly, but many countries allow visitors to use native licenses in other nations. The United States, for example, has signed an international agreement that permits travelers to use their domestic licenses in other countries. Before you travel, contact a country's consulate or embassy to determine whether the country will accept your license. A list of contact information is on the State Department's website.

Another option is the International Driver's Permit, issued by the American Automobile Association (AAA). This permit translates essential information from your license, and many countries require it. Finally, if you plan to stay for an extended time, check with the consulate to see whether you need to apply for a license in that country.

How can I lose my license?

Driving is a privilege, not a right. Because of the inherent danger in operating a motor vehicle, states rigidly control who can drive. Common reasons for suspending or revoking a license include:

Several states use a point system, where different violations have a specific point value. Under these systems, states can suspend or revoke your driver's license if you have a certain number of points in a given time. If you lose your license, you must typically wait a certain period of time before you can reapply. You might also have to complete driver training or defensive driving courses before reapplying. It is your financial responsibility to pay the reinstatement or application fee.

What is the difference between license suspension and revocation?

License suspension is temporary, but license revocation is usually permanent. If you have a suspended license, you can't legally drive until enough time passes. Revocation means you lose your driver's license.

Different reasons affect whether a state suspends or revokes a license. The grounds for license suspension can include issues like reckless driving and unpaid child support. The grounds for license revocation often involve serious offenses like DUIs.

Can I get into trouble for driving with a suspended or revoked license?

You could face fines, loss of your license or vehicle, or more severe penalties like jail time if you drive without a valid license. The exact penalties will depend on the state laws where law enforcement pulls you over.

A first offense for driving without a valid driver's license is a misdemeanor in most states. You could receive a jail sentence if you already have a suspended license. A second offense or third offense can be a felony crime.

Penalties typically increase depending on why you lost your driving privileges. For example, if you lost your license because of drunk driving, expect heavy fines and the possibility of jail time (depending on the circumstances of the charge).

Losing your driving privileges in one state can affect your driving ability in other states. State laws govern the rules of the road, but your driving record can follow you nationally.

Can I fight to stop a license revocation?

Yes, you can defend against a license penalty in some cases. You may challenge suspension or revocation at a driver's license hearing. Your defense may involve challenging the traffic offense that led to this penalty.

Can I apply to get my driver's license back?

Yes, you can apply for a driver's license reinstatement to regain your driving privileges. Reinstating a revoked license can be more complicated than restoring a suspended license.

You must first meet all the requirements in your state, which might involve:

  • Attending a court hearing
  • Paying license reinstatement fees
  • Retaking driving tests
  • Completing a rehabilitation program
  • Installing an ignition interlock device
  • Performing required hours of community service

Not everyone can regain their driver's license. The state can decide who can or can't have driving privileges. You can apply to reinstate your license through your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or a similar agency.

I'm worried about an older adult driving unsafely. Will their license get taken away?

Older adults get into car accidents, just like younger drivers. Their safety behind the wheel (and those they share the road with) can be a serious concern for their loved ones. State DMVs accept information from police, family, and physicians about a driver's possible impairment.

Some states try to screen older drivers by requiring written tests or vision tests more frequently. If the DMV moves to suspend or revoke an older adult's license based on the comments or recommendations of a third party, the driver usually has the opportunity to protest.

What is a learner's permit, and how does it work?

Most drivers get a learner's permit (or instructional permit) before they are eligible for a driver's license. It varies by state, but most drivers must hold a learner's permit for a set amount of time before applying for a full driver's license. This usually depends on age. For example, drivers under 18 years old often must hold a permit for six months before full licensure.

Underage drivers typically must complete driver education courses before applying for a permit.

The goal of a learner's permit is to allow motorists to practice their driving skills under the supervision of a licensed driver. It typically has restrictions on when and with whom you can drive.

Most often, a permit only requires a written knowledge test. In most states, it doesn't require a road or skills test. Like a license application, you will likely need several documents to apply for a learner's permit. Requirements vary by state but typically include:

  • Proof of identification and date of birth (like an identification card or ID card, birth certificate, or passport)
  • Proof of state residence (this can include utility bills, lease or mortgage statements, bank statements, or paystubs)
  • Applicant's Social Security number (usually a Social Security card)
  • Proof of legal residence (like a green card or residence permit)

Drivers under 18 years of age also need a parent or guardian's consent.

Contact your local DMV office to see what proofs and verifications you need in your jurisdiction.

Is it illegal to drive without my driver's license card on me?

Yes, in most states, it is unlawful to operate a vehicle without a valid driver's license in your possession. Your driver's license will verify you are legally authorized to drive. It can also prove your identity if needed.

You should always have the following items with you every time you drive:

If a police officer stops you, they will ask for these documents. These proofs are also necessary if you are involved in a collision.

I have a felony. Can I get a driver's license?

The ability to get a driver's license as a felon can vary depending on the state and the nature of your conviction. Most often, having a felony conviction will not automatically disqualify you from getting a driver's license in most states.

This is also true for a commercial driver's license (CDL). The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) oversees the safety of commercial vehicles like trucks and buses. It also regulates licensing and registration. But states set their own laws on who can get a CDL.

What medical conditions affect my ability to get or keep a driver's license?

Certain medical conditions may affect your ability to get or keep a driver's license. Requirements vary by your location, but some of these conditions include:

  • Cataracts
  • Macular degeneration
  • Dementia
  • Epilepsy
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Arthritis

You should report any health conditions that can cause loss of consciousness or affect your ability to safely operate a vehicle to your local DMV. A medical condition that causes a higher risk of collision can also affect your auto insurance rates.

Most states have specific guidelines in place about epilepsy and seizures.

Consult an Experienced Traffic Ticket Attorney

If police have cited you for a driver's license-related traffic violation, get the help of an experienced traffic ticket lawyer. A skilled attorney familiar with the laws in your area could save you from demerits on your driving record and a loss of driving privileges.

For more information, see our Traffic Laws section.

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