To get your driver license in the United States, you will need to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles near your city, also known as DMV. There are many in each State, as you can see in the table.
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Driving is a must nowadays, even more so if you live in a country such as the United States of America. Unless you are resident in cities like New York City or Washington D.C., where public transportation can be found anywhere and in all kinds, in other areas less populated you might face some trouble making your way to work or home if you don’t own a car or, at least, haven’t obtained your driver license yet.
It is important to know that every State is in charge of running their offices and implement their own rules. Since every license is issued by the State or territory, the first thing you would need to do is to call or go to the closest office to your residence. Although you receive the license in your home State, it is completely valid anywhere you go in the country. This is because even though each State has its own laws, all of them share the same federal regulations.
One important item to note, if you have violated a traffic law you can be denied or suspended to drive in the State or territory you committed the infraction. Make sure you follow the traffic rules properly!
However, if you are thinking and/or are moving to a different State permanently or for a long period of time, it is recommended to not only switch your license ID, but also to carefully read the State´s traffic rules.
What is the DMV?
As an official state-level government institution focused on supervising, monitoring and issuing new motor vehicle registration, licenses and safety within the United States of America. The services provided by the Department of Motor Vehicles range from renewal of driver’s license, to info about medical requirements for driving or insurance of the vehicle, to paying tickets. Anything related to your vehicle or your license.
Did you know that the first ‘driving teachers’ were the workers that were working in the dealerships? They were the first ones to start giving instructions and teach the basics of traffic rules and driving. Not long after that, family members and friends, as well as institutions like YMCA also started supporting the cause and helped promote safe driving. Around the 1930’s, basic driving education and traffic regulations started being taught in High Schools.
The first States to require a driver license were Massachusetts and Missouri in 1903. However, you didn't need to pass an exam to obtain the license. A few years earlier, the State of New York was the very first one to register new cars after seeing a big increase in the purchases of motorized vehicles in the early 1900´s.
Right after that, in 1908, Henry Ford released his first Ford car, called the Ford Model T Vehicle and it was so affordable in money terms that a fair amount of middle class Americans were able to purchase it. This wide-ranging success made some States decide that drivers had to pass an exam in order to get their license. It wasn’t until 1918 that cars from all States were compelled to have license plates. Despite regulations being a long and slow process, in 1935 there were already 39 States who had accepted regulations regarding driver license.
At what age can you start driving?
As we mentioned throughout the beginning of this article, every State has its own rules, and this also applies to the minimum age. While you can drive at the age of 14 in States like South Dakota, Idaho, Alaska or Arkansas with a learner permit, others don’t allow you to start driving until you are 15 or 16, or older like in New Jersey which has 17 as the minimum age. However, once you get a learner permit you will need parental supervision or similar to drive. Each State has applied its own regulations, and the most common ones are passenger limits or not driving from midnight to 5 am, among others.
The learner permit needs to be held for at least 6 months and have a set amount of hours driving to be able to upgrade the license, in addition to taking the drivers training course. For example, Michigan requests for 50 hours of practice.
The validity of the normal permit might vary as well, from 8 years to 4,5 or 6.
Types of driving licenses
- Non Restricted licenses These are the most common ones in the country. Although depending on which State you are in the restrictions can be different in regards to the kind of class it can be. The class identifies the type of drivers license.
- Hardship license for minors: As explained above in the previous paragraph, these are the drivers between 14 to 15 - and sometimes 18 can even apply too.
- Provisional licenses: These are meant for drivers that are under 18.
- Chauffeur’s license:Generally, in most States this license is like the regular one but with the difference that it allows you to drive taxis, limousines or similar. As they are not professional or commercial, some States do apply extra exams about explicit driving rules or a background check. You must be at least 18 years of age to obtain.
- Motorcycle license: These work like a normal permit in most of the States, not requiring an exact type of license specifically. Although, in some places you do need to get an additional permit if your motorcycle has a sidecar or if it is a type of bike or scooter that is not in the regular classification. Be sure to check with your closest DMV!
- Disabled person's license: Despite their grade of disability, most of the standard disabled people with capability to drive are able to apply for this license. It requires a special access to the vehicle to improve their driving experience.
All the types described above have their own restrictions and regulations depending on the State. To know more about these types of licenses, please make sure you contact the DMV of your State.
Tips for the driver license road test
Are you ready to finally get your driver license approved? Then make sure you pass your driving exam properly! Do not worry, it will be an easy ride - quite literally. This will be an exciting and unforgettable time that will provide you the opportunity to travel around, but will also teach you how to drive and follow the rules correctly to assure your safety.
- Check your mirrors, they must be regulated for safety and comfort while driving; accommodate your seat and steering wheel and put on your seatbelt.
- Both hands on the steering wheel - except if you have a manual car, in which you will need to use your right hand to shift gears. Just remember that your test supervisor needs to feel safe at all times. What's the best hand position and the one that will make you pass the exam? The 9 and 3 o´clock one.
- Change lanes following the right steps. It means, look in both mirrors to verify it's clear and you wouldn't have any problem switching lanes, then turn on your indicator and when you finally made the move, turn the indicator off. If you have to go to the farthest lane on the other side, you will have to keep changing lines just as we mentioned above. Going over multiple lanes will take some patience since you cannot go across two or three at once: look, signal, proceed to move and start again. However, remember to always use the turn signal, either if there is traffic or not!
- Getting onto a highway or high speed street safely is the primary goal. It is better that you give yourself some time to pull out so you don’t have to deal with fast drivers or a lot of traffic at once.
- Focus on the center of the lane while driving. Yes, we know we can be a bit nervous in those moments but we have to keep it together and don’t lose control or you might fail the test.
- Red light or a stop sign? Make sure you stop before the white line to the point that you have to be able to see it in the front of your vehicle. If you have a car ahead, give yourself some space - even more if the speed limit is high so you would have time to stop if the automobile pushes the break abruptly. In those cases, you will also need to make sure that the car behind you is far away by looking in the mirror, or it could hit you.
- Always alert. Without losing the attention to the driving, don’t lose sight of anything that surrounds you. It means watch out for pedestrians, animals, bumps or objects that might get in your way. How? Look at the mirrors, over your shoulders, have a clear view in front of you, etc.
- Be careful with your turns. People often cut corners and during the drive test we recommend you to be extremely careful or you could fail the exam. Take a wide turn and don’t rush.
- Have a relaxing and gentle ride. Make smooth turns, don’t go fast or too slow, and definitely don’t push the brake or the gas too hard. You need to make a good impression and being nervous and spontaneous won’t help you pass the exam and also unsafe.
How do I renew or replace my driver’s license or ID card?
It is important you make sure your driver’s license doesn’t expire or you face some fines. And if your driver’s license has expired for over two years, you will need to start the process over again: vision exam, driving course, written and driving test. Quite a work, isn’t it? So yes, even though it can feel like it's a boring process it actually goes pretty fast if you know for sure what the steps are.
Although usually the DMV of your State is in charge of sending you a reminder card letting you know about your license being expired around 60 days before it actually happens, you can easily renew it before the expiration date is up. Depending on the State, you can do it even one year before like in New York, or six months before like in North Carolina. Check out what your State says about it!
If you have lost or your license has been damaged somehow, you can easily get another copy. In the case you have changed your name or moved to a different address, you will also need to go and update it to obtain a new one.
If you need to replace or renew your driver license or ID, you can just do it online or go to your closest DMV office. It's that easy.
Medical requirements for driving
This is an easy step for regular drivers, since you are only given a vision test. It is your responsibility that you need to indicate if you have any handicap that might cause you any problem while driving.
You will have to provide any information to the officer about any medical condition, such as: if you had had anything related to unconsciousness like epilepsy, convulsive disorder or fainting; if you are having hearing problems or are currently carrying a hearing aid; or if you lost a body member like an eye, arm or leg. It will appear in the back of your license, right under ‘restrictions’. For example, if you need corrective lenses it will be shown.
But if you are applying for a commercial license to drive trucks, taxis, etc. you are committed to get checked by a doctor annually. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has established some health standards to follow and that are required to keep safety on the road.
Did you get a ticket? Normally you are going to have around 30 days to pay it and it could be in person, calling, by mail or even online. If you do not pay within that period, you could be subject to a penalty. But, if instead you want to fight it and challenge it then do not pay so it wouldn’t be contestable anymore.
Regulation about buying and selling vehicles
When you are transferring ownership there are a few steps you need to follow. Depending on the State you are on, it will require a different process, but generally you will need to take care of a few documents. As a seller, it is necessary to fill out and sign the transfer of ownership section as well as signing the bill of sale (you will need to do it if it's a gift as well). As the buyer, you also have to sign the bill of sale just like we mentioned before, pay the sales tax, and register the vehicle or transfer the registration from a different automobile to the new one. In this last step you will have to go to the DMV office or send the documents by mail (we suggest you go to the closest office to finish the process without any problem or missing document). Also, before you register the car, truck or motorbike, you need to clear any debt and ticket issued to your ID to be able to finish the process.
How about selling your car after you just bought it? Currently there is nothing against that. You are able to leave the car dealer with your new car to then sell it right away. The only problem could be in your loan if you requested one so look into it before you end up paying a penalty.
Inspection of the vehicle
Here’s where it gets complicated because every state has different rules about having a yearly inspection. In fact, there are seven States that do not require an annual checkup such as Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, South Carolina, and South Dakota. You also find some specific rules about it in Michigan, where you don’t need to bring it in either if you don’t have a new vehicle. Similar for Mississippi, which makes cars with tinted windows go in for an inspection.
Other States have soft requirements, specially for relatively new cars or electric vehicles. These cars have emissions and safety inspections every two years. In places like Utah the law is to check your car when it is 4, 8 and 10 years old. Afterwards, you have to inspect it yearly.
States like New York, Georgia or New Hampshire are a bit more severe about it and do require annual inspections depending on the city you live in. Anyways, to know for sure when you need to take your automobile in you should contact your local DMV.
Insurance of the vehicle
The two most basic and common insurance for a new car is to get liability coverage or uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, which are a requirement in some States - at least in the most basic liability coverage.
For those who appreciate their car and want to make sure nothing happens to it, then the comprehensive coverage is pretty useful. Even though it is not normally required, if you are leasing a high class automobile they could require it.
Every insurance company has its different policy and prices, so it is up to you to find the right one for you and for the car. Talking with different insurance agents could be a big help if you don’t know what you are looking for. For example, the collision coverage also covers if you crash against a block, a fence or a car. Then, there is a more specific coverage towards health, called medical payments coverage. This is the one for those who might not have great health insurance but want to make sure if anything happens while you are in the car it will be covered.
This is a very specific subject since every city manages it differently depending on various factors. The entity responsible for issuing those permits is the DMV along with the District Department of Transportation.