Your Driver's License FAQ

Answers to questions on driving outside of your state, driving with a suspended or revoked license, and driving when you're over 65.

If I get a ticket in another state, will it affect my driver's license?

Forty-eight states belong either to an agreement called the "Driver's License Compact" or the "Non-Resident Violator Compact." (The only states that don't belong to one or the other are  Michigan and Wisconsin.) When you get a ticket in one of these states, the department of motor vehicles will relay the information to your state -- and the violation will affect your driving record as if the ticket had been given at home.

Can I use my driver's license in a foreign country?

Many countries, including the United States, have signed an international agreement allowing visitors to use their own licenses in other nations. Before traveling to another country, contact its consulate office or embassy to find out whether your license will be sufficient; you can find the phone number in your telephone book's white pages under the name of the country. Or, you can visit the U.S. State Department website at http://travel.state.gov.

In addition, you may want to obtain an "International Driver's Permit," issued by the American Automobile Association. This document translates the information on your driver's license into ten languages. Many countries require the permit, not because it meets their requirements for a license, but because it is a ready-made copy of the important information on your American license.

Finally, if you intend to stay in another country for an extended period of time, you should check with the consular office to find out whether you'll need to apply for a license in that country. Every country will have its own rules about when a "visit" turns into something more permanent.

When can my driver's license be suspended or revoked?

Driving a car is considered a privilege -- and a state won't hesitate to take it away if a driver behaves irresponsibly on the road. A state may temporarily suspend your driving privileges for a number of reasons, including:

  • driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • refusing to take a blood-alcohol test
  • driving without liability insurance
  • speeding
  • reckless driving
  • leaving the scene of an injury accident
  • failing to pay a driving-related fine
  • failing to answer a traffic summons, or
  • failing to file an accident report.

In addition, many states use a "point" system to keep track of a driver's moving violations: Each moving violation is assigned a certain number of points. If a driver accumulates too many points within a given period of time, the department of motor vehicles suspends her license.

If you have too many serious problems as a driver, your state may take away (revoke) your license altogether. If this happens, you'll have to wait a certain period of time before you can apply for another license. Your state may deny your application if you have a poor driving record or fail to pass any required tests. For more information, see Nolo's article  Traffic Fines, License Suspensions, and Traffic School.

Finally, a few states revoke or refuse to renew drivers' licenses of parents who owe back child support.

What will happen if I'm caught driving with a suspended or revoked license?

You'll probably be arrested. Driving with a suspended or revoked license is usually considered a crime that carries a heavy fine and possibly even jail time. At worst, it may be a felony; you could end up in state prison or with an obligation to perform many hours of community service. The penalties will probably be heaviest if the suspension or revocation was the result of a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI).

My elderly friend is becoming unsafe at the wheel. Will her license be taken away?

Studies show that, as a group, older drivers drive less than younger drivers, but they have more accidents per mile. Unsafe drivers who continue to drive despite the advice of family and friends often do not come to the attention of the state until the inevitable -- the driver is stopped for erratic driving or, worse, he or she is involved in an accident. A few states try to screen out unsafe older drivers by requiring more frequent written tests. But the added tests don't always identify unsafe driving habits.

All licensing departments accept information from police officers, families, and physicians about a driver's abilities. If a licensing agency moves to cancel someone's license as the result of an officer's observations, an accident, or the report of family members or a doctor, the driver usually has an opportunity to protest.

For more information on drivers' licenses and traffic tickets, see Beat Your Ticket: Go to Court & Win, by David Brown (Nolo).

Is my driver's license good in every state?

If you have a valid license from one state, you may use it in other states that you visit. But, if you make a permanent move to another state, you'll have to take a trip to the local department of motor vehicles to apply for a new license. Usually, you must do this within 30 days after moving to the new state. Most states will issue your new license without requiring tests, though some may ask you to take a vision test and a written exam covering basic driving rules.

In some situations, you may be unsure as to whether you need to apply for a new license. If you make frequent business trips to another state, or even if you attend school in a state away from home, there's no need to get another driver's license. But, when you set up housekeeping in the new state and pay taxes there as well, it's time to apply.

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