How Driving Regulations Differ Across States

By: | February 28th, 2023

Image by tookapic from Pixabay

When it comes to driving regulations, some basic rules will apply in all 50 U.S. states like respecting speed limits, driving on the right side of the road, not driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, not running red lights, or not leaving the scene of an accident.

Still, not all driving regulations are the same in the U.S. and one of the principal differences will be the punishments meted out if you break one of the rules of the road.

If you will be driving cross-country or in another state, it’s important to know the specific driving rules for that state. A valid driver’s license and vehicle registration is required of all motorists. Each state will also have its limit on the amount of compensation you can seek if you are harmed in a car accident that is not your fault.

At-Fault States vs. No-Fault States

A state that applies at-fault regulations to accidents is called a tort state. If you cause an accident in these states, you will be responsible for paying any damages to the other car involved as well as medical expenses. 

Your auto insurance provider will pay for the costs up to the limit specified in your policy. If damages exceed the limit, you’ll need to pay for these out of pocket.

No-fault states, despite their name, will still obligate you to pay for damage to the car or property if the accident is your fault. The difference lies in the resulting medical expenses from the accident. 

In no-fault states, medical expenses and physical injuries are covered by Personal Injury Protection known as PIP. This coverage takes care of medical treatments, ambulance costs, prescriptions, and home care costs. It may even include lost wages and eventual funeral expenses. No-fault regulations are designed to limit the amount you can sue or be sued for.

No-fault states include:

  • Hawaii
  • Washington
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Texas
  • Arkansas
  • North Dakota
  • Minnesota
  • Michigan
  • Kansas
  • Florida
  • Maryland
  • Kentucky
  • Delaware
  • Massachusetts
  • Pennsylvania
  • New York
  • New Jersey

Are Some States Stricter than Others?

Yes. Delaware, for example, is very strict. If you are cited for speeding, reckless driving, or driving under the influence, expect more than a slap on the wrist. Delaware will revoke your license for a year and levy a heavy fine if you are caught driving drunk. If a motorist also causes harm to other people, there will also be a civil suit in the courts.

Examples of strict state regulations include:

  • Oregon has very high speeding fines and in the case of drunk driving will send you to jail for at least two days, order a hefty fine to pay, suspend your license for a year, and mandate an ignition interlock.
  • Several states (Wyoming, Oklahoma, Nevada, Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas) can send you to prison for 6 months for excessive speeding.
  • Hawaii only permits speeds of 60 mph on its interstate highways.
  • Alaska may levy a fine for drunk driving to the tune of $25,000 while New Hampshire, Oregon, and Washington, apply fines for reckless driving starting at $5000.
  • Virginia and Arizona have joined other states in making the handling of handheld devices while driving illegal. California has increased its penalties for those that repeat handheld device violations.

What Is Required in All U.S. States?

All states require that as a driver you take care behind the wheel. This means driving sensibly at reasonable speeds, regardless of limits, and considering the weather, road conditions, and traffic. Even if you drive below the speed limit yet cause an accident in bad weather, you may be considered negligent.

You are also required to watch out for pedestrians, bikers, and other motorists as well as any hazards. Falling asleep at the wheel is considered negligent. You also must always be in control of your car. Even in an accident that is not your fault, if you lose control of your vehicle, this too can be considered negligence.

Auto maintenance is another general rule. Failing brakes, bald tires, or broken lights imply a lack of maintenance that can also be interpreted as negligence landing you a violation and fine.

Insurance Considerations

Each state also has varying insurance requirements, and you will need to be insured where you reside and where your vehicle is registered. 

Most insurance providers allow for some driving out of state. While other providers will offer car insurance discounts regardless of which state you are insured in. Common discounts include defensive driving courses, safety and security devices installed in your vehicle, and insurance policy bundling. 

States Differ in Insurance Requirements and Discounts

Some states may require only liability coverage while others will require PIP, underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage, and property damage liability. Individual states will also have varying minimum coverage requirements, and insurance providers may vary the kinds of discounts they offer as well.

One example is taking a defensive driving course or driver’s education course. This will get you a discount on your insurance costs in many states, however, it’s worth noting that this is not true everywhere. California, Illinois, and Texas require a driver’s education course to get a license, so there will be no discount on a state requirement.  

States like Minnesota, North Dakota, and Alabama do not have a course requirement, so in these states, it might behoove you to take a course if there is a discount available from your insurer. 

For example, purchasing car insurance in Alabama not only allows for a defensive driving course and accident-free discounts, but it is also one of the least expensive states for car insurance.

If you are planning to drive in states other than where you reside or if you will be moving, visit the State’s Motor Vehicle Department before leaving home to familiarize yourself with state regulations when behind the wheel.


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