There are many different scenarios in which your license may be suspended, including driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an accident, and assaulting another motorist (i.e. "road rage"). Having your driver's license suspended or revoked can be a serious obstacle when you're trying to earn a living, raise a family, or just have a social life. But what happens when you move to another state? Does the suspension follow you, or can you obtain a valid license in the new state? Well, as with most legal matters, it depends.
Reciprocity: The Driver License Compact
Thanks to the Driver License Compact (DLC), your driving record will follow you almost anywhere you go in the United States. The DLC is an interstate agreement that facilitates states' exchange of information regarding traffic violations, suspensions, and revocations. The compact's motto is "One Driver, One License, One Record."
Under the compact, virtually all traffic offenses that occur in a different state are treated as if they occurred in the state where you're licensed (this is limited to moving violations and typically excludes offenses such as parking tickets or tinted windows). So, if your license is suspended in a member state, it will likely be suspended in any other member state to which you relocate.
Similarly, if you apply for a license in a new state, your suspension will likely prevent you from being issued a new license. That happens because when a person applies for a driver's license, the DMV (or applicable motor vehicle agency in the state) checks to see if the name appears on the National Driver Register (NDR) -- a database containing the names of people who have had their license suspended or revoked.
There are five possible results when the DMV of a member state checks your information at the NDR, including:
- No Match - Individual has no record in the database
- Match - Individual does in fact have a record in the database
- Licensed (LIC) - Individual holds a valid driver's license in the state
- Eligible (ELG) - Individual is legally eligible to apply for a license in the state
- Not Eligible (NELG) - Individual is ineligible to apply for a license in the state
The license compact isn't only interstate, but international in a few cases. For example, New York, Maine, and Florida all have special agreements with Quebec, allowing them to exchange information and take adverse action.
A Few Exceptions
While the majority of states are members of the Driver License Compact, there are a few exceptions. For instance, Maine, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan, and Tennessee aren't members of the compact. Your chances of obtaining a new driver's license in a non-member state are probably greater.
In addition, in order to be penalized for an out-of-state offense, the driver's state must punish the same conduct. For example, Colorado has a careless driving statute, while Arizona does not. So, if a driver from Arizona is cited for careless driving in Colorado, the citation won't affect his driving record in Arizona.
Still Confused About the Status of Your Driver's License? Contact an Attorney
It can be stressful trying to navigate your job, family responsibilities, and life in general without a valid driver's license. But if you're moving to another state hoping to get your life back in order, keep in mind that a suspended license may follow you across state borders. If you have questions or specific legal needs with respect to a suspended license, talk to a traffic attorney licensed in your state.