Driver's Licenses FAQ
FindLaw's driver's license guide, with answers to questions on driving outside of your state, driving with a suspended or revoked license, and driving when you're over 65.
Q: 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. However, if you become a permanent resident of another state, you will have to apply for a new license in that state (often within 30 days of moving to that state). Although your new state might not make you take a new driving test, some states will require you to take a new vision or written examination.
So when do you become a permanent resident of another state? The general rule is to ask whether you have an intent to stay in that state. If you do, you need to go get a new license. One good rule of thumb is if you're paying taxes in that state, you should go get a new driver's license. Attending school in another state does not make you a permanent resident, because you have no intent to stay at that point, you're simply there to go to school.
Finally, if you're a young driver, check with the Department of Motor Vehicles in the state you are going to visit. Some states have lower driving ages, and you may not be allowed to drive in another state. For example, although New York may have a driving age of 16, New Jersey may set it at 17 and a 16 year old licensed New York driver may not be a valid driver in New Jersey.
Q: Can a ticket from another state affect my driver's license?
Yes, it will likely affect your driver's license. Forty-eight states are part of either the "Driver's License Compact" or the "Non-Resident Violator Compact", which allows DMVs in one state to send information to your DMV. A ticket in another state will be sent to your state's DMV and will affect your driving record just the same as if you had received the ticket in your home state.
Q: What about in other countries? Can I use my driver's license?
This varies greatly, but many countries allow for visitors to use their 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 find out whether your license will be accepted. A good list of contact information can be found at the State Department's website.
Another option is the International Driver's Permit, issued by the American Automobile Association. This permit translates important information from your license and is required in many countries. Finally, if you plan on staying for a long period of time, check with the consulate to see whether you need to apply for a license in that country.
Q: How can I lose my license?
As we mentioned above, driving is a privilege and not a right. Because of the inherent danger in driving, states rigidly control who is given that privilege and who is not. Common reasons for suspending or revoking a license include:
- Driving while intoxicated by alcohol or other drugs (DUI/DWI);
- Reckless driving;
- Leaving the scene of an injury accident;
- Driving without the proper insurance;
- Refusing to take a breathalyzer or other blood-alcohol test;
- Failing to pay a driving fine, answer a traffic summons or file an accident report.
Several states use a point system, where different violations are given a different point value. If a person receives a certain amount of points in a given time, their license will be suspended or revoked. If your license is revoked, you must typically wait a certain period of time before you can reapply. Finally, some states will suspend or revoke a license if the driver owes unpaid child support.
Q: Can I get into trouble for driving with a suspended or revoked license?
If you're caught driving with a suspended or revoked license, you will likely be arrested. In many states it's a crime, and carries a hefty fine and the possibility of imprisonment. The fine and jail time typically increase depending on why the license was suspended or revoked in the first place. For example, if your license was suspended or revoked because of drunk driving, expect an extremely unsympathetic judge, heavy fines and most likely some jail time.
Q: I'm worried about an elderly person driving unsafely. Will his or her license be taken away?
Elderly people do have accidents, as well as younger drivers, and it is a serious concern. 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 more often. If the DMV moves to suspend or revoke an elderly person's license based on the comments or recommendations of a third party, the driver will usually be given the opportunity to protest.
Consult an Experienced Traffic Ticket Attorney
If you've been cited for a driver's license-related traffic violation, you may need an experienced traffic ticket lawyer. A skilled attorney will evaluate all of the evidence and help you decide if you should fight your case in court. Remember that when you're looking for an attorney, it's important to find one who is familiar with the laws in your jurisdiction.
For more information, see our Traffic Laws section.