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Driving Laws that Change by State

March 22nd, 2012 - 3:54 PM

Learn more about driving laws that change by state
If you’re moving across the country, it’s good to know what driving laws might change as you drive state to state – specifically speed limits, minimum driving age, seat belts, radar detectors, carpooling and cell phone usage.  Remember, ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse, so here are some resources for determining what the laws are before moving day gets here: 

Speed limit laws.  Since not all states acknowledge the same speed limits on the road, ultimately it’s up to the driver to look for posted speed limit signs.  You should always err on the side of caution when in doubt. This chart from the National Motorists Association lists speed limits on interstates by state: http://www.motorists.org/speed-limits/state-chart.  

Carpooling.  Because carpooling is becoming increasingly more popular, especially in larger cities, we’re seeing many laws created for HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes and carpool lanes.  Usually driving in these lanes requires a minimum of 2 to 3 riders per vehicle, but that can vary.  Make sure to know your state’s carpool lane laws before you make your merge!  If you’re driving through any large cities, we recommend Googling “carpool laws (+city)” before your trip.

Seat belts.  According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), seat belt laws are divided into two categories: primary and secondary.  Primary laws allow law enforcement officers to ticket a driver for not wearing a seat belt without any other traffic violations; secondary laws allow for ticketing for not wearing a seat belt only when there is another citable traffic infraction.  Thirty-two states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico all have primary seat belt laws; seventeen states have secondary laws.  New Hampshire is the only state without a primary or secondary seat belt law for adults (though it does have a primary child passenger safety law for drivers and passengers under 18).  Learn more about state seat belt laws here: http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/seatbelt_laws.html.

Cell phone laws.  Because the use of cell phones while driving is such a problem, many states have created laws against texting and/or talking while driving.  Many of these laws focus on school zones and construction zones specifically.  This chart from the GHSA shows all state cell phone and text messaging laws. http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html

Driving under the influence.  All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws stating that it is a crime to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above a certain level, which is currently 0.08 percent for most states.  This chart from the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety shows DUI/DWI laws by state: http://www.iihs.org/laws/dui.aspx  

Radar detectors.  Research shows that these devices are legal in private vehicles in all states other than Virginia, Washington D.C., and on U.S. military bases.  In Minnesota and California there are laws against affixing them to the windshield (obstructing vision).

Minimum driving age.  In most states the minimum driving age is 16; however some states have nighttime restrictions that raise the age to 17 or 18, and many states have passenger restrictions for drivers under 18.  Check out all age-related driving restrictions here: http://www.iihs.org/laws/gdl_intermediate.aspx

If you have any questions about the driving laws in any state you’re operating a vehicle in, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicle Department should be able to help.