There are some basic rules of driving that all states enforce for traffic safety. For example, all states require that drivers drive on the right side of the road and obey the speed limits.
However, there are differences among the states regarding the more detailed aspects of driving. You should know the driving laws of your home state and check the rules each time you move or decide to travel through another state.
FindLaw's State Traffic Laws section provides information about driving rules in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Some of the information in this section includes each state's online vehicle code, statutes for traffic violations, and state-specific driving manuals.
Traffic Laws Common to All States
Some driving laws are common to all states. For example, every state requires drivers to have a valid driver's license and to register their vehicle. However, the requirements and procedure for getting a license and registering your car can vary from state to state.
A few rules of the road in all states include:
- Yielding to pedestrians and bicyclists even when they aren't on a crosswalk
- Yielding to the driver with the right of way at an intersection
- Wearing seat belts
- Pulling over to let an emergency vehicle pass
- Reaching a complete stop at a stop sign
- Maintaining basic safety features of your vehicle, such as windshield wipers and turn signals
- Slowing down to a reduced speed limit in a work zone
- Signaling and checking blind spots before changing lanes
All states have laws outlawing speeding, running red lights, and leaving the scene of an accident. They also have laws that make it illegal to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI) while driving.
Standardization Across States
Each state creates its own vehicle code, but states also must consider a few federal rules. These rules include sharing a vehicle registration database and accepting licenses from other states.
For example, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) sets nationwide standards for traffic signs and traffic lights. States can create slight variations to suit specific needs, but all states must meet these standards. These requirements ensure that travelers can easily and instantly understand the road rules when driving across states.
How State Driving Laws Differ
Though each state has laws about the basic rules of driving, the details of the laws vary from state to state. When driving in a different state, assuming that the driving rules will be the same as your home state is dangerous.
Some of the differences commonly involve:
Standard speed limits are a clear example of how laws differ. The maximum speed limit on a freeway in one state might be 65 mph, but another state's freeway speed limit could be 70 mph. The punishment for violating these laws also usually varies from state to state.
The Driver's License Point System
Many states use the driver's license point system. This system assigns point values to each type of traffic offense. This system allows each state's motor vehicle department to keep track of people's driving records.
Each state gives each traffic offense a point value. You can face penalties if you get too many points on your license, especially in a short time. The state motor vehicle department may suspend your license.
Several states don't use the points system. Instead, they keep track of your driving history and handle traffic ticket penalties differently.
How Local Traffic Laws Work
State law outlines almost all traffic rules that drivers should know. Yet, many states also set laws that let local governments add special rules through ordinances.
Traffic ordinances can enhance public safety in a local area based on the specific roadway. For example, state law might allow a city to set parking restrictions or prohibit right turns on red lights at an intersection.
Local ordinances must still follow state and federal regulations. For example, a state may allow cities to set a highway speed limit lower but not higher than the standard state highway speed.
State Resources for Traffic Tickets
Below are links to information and online service centers for traffic tickets in select states. If your state is not on the list, scroll to the bottom of this page for a link to more information about your state traffic laws.
Hiring a Lawyer in Your State
You can learn about your state's traffic laws without the help of a lawyer. You might feel differently, however, if you've received a traffic ticket.
While you can generally take care of a traffic ticket without a lawyer, you might want to consult a traffic ticket attorney to learn about your legal options. If you're facing more serious charges, such as a DUI or felony hit and run, a criminal defense attorney may be the right fit for your case.