Are All Driving Laws in the United States the Same?

In the United States, some basic rules of driving are the same in all states, like driving on the right side of the road and the requirement to obey posted speed limits. However, if you've recently been in an accident, you might be asking, "Are all the driving laws in the US the same?" And the answer to that is “no.”

When it comes to specifics, it's important to know the rules of the road in any state in which you live or plan to visit. Throughout the U.S., drivers are required to have a valid driver's license and registration. Running red lights and leaving the scene of an accident is illegal across the US, as is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. What's likely to be different is how the laws are applied and what kind of punishment is meted out for offenders. Additionally, every state has laws concerning limits on the amount of compensation you can get if harmed by another party.

Suppose you've been injured in an accident by another driver. In that case, there may be ways our lawyers can help you with a personal injury lawsuit. But first, let's take a look at some of the driving laws in the US that could factor into your negligence claim, excluding the ones we've already pointed out as being common across all states.

What is the difference between "At-Fault" states and "No-Fault" states? 

At-fault states are also known as tort states, and if a driver causes a crash in these states, they are responsible for paying for damages to the other driver's vehicle and any medical expenses. Insurance policies the at-fault driver is required to carry will pay up to the policy limits. After that, any damages that exceed the policy coverage limits will have to be paid out of pocket.  

No-fault states, while contrary to their name, still obligate at-fault drivers to pay for property damage. However, physical injuries are covered under what is known as Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. PIP can cover medical expenses like ambulance fees, prescriptions, medical treatment, home care expenses, and even lost wages and funeral expenses. The "no-fault" system is designed to limit the amount people can sue for if they've been injured. In most instances, the injuries have to be severe to go after the other driver's personal assets. Below are "no-fault" states:

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

Which states have the strictest driving rules? 

Overall, Delaware has some of the strictest driving rules out of all US states when it comes to drunk driving, reckless driving, and speeding. If you're caught drunk driving in Delaware, you can expect to lose your license for at least one year and a fine of $1,150. Of course, these punishments come from the state. If the perpetrator causes harm to other individuals, it can be taken up as a civil matter in the courts.

  • Hawaii has the lowest posted maximum speed limit on US interstates at 60 mph.
  • Oregon has the highest speeding fines at a whopping $2000.
  • In Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, excessive speeding can land you six months in jail.
  • Oregon is the hardest on drunk drivers with a minimum jail sentence of 2 days and fines in the range of $1000 to $6250, a minimum one-year license suspension, and an ignition interlock device mandate.
  • Alaska has the highest maximum drunk driving fines at $25,000. 
  • Washington, Oregon, and New Hampshire have reckless driving fines of $5000 or more.

What are some new traffic laws in 2021?

In 2021, the state of Virginia will be one of the latest states to make it illegal to handle a handheld device while operating a vehicle. Drivers can still use their phones when parked or stopped, and they can also use their devices to report an emergency while driving. Otherwise, it's hands-off. Furthermore, drivers who are applying for their driver's license are required to study the concept of distracted driving, which, in a nutshell, is anything that could take your attention away from the road. Distracted driving examples are things like eating, caring for a fussy baby, or rummaging for something in your car's glove box. 

Arizona also passed a hands-free law in 2021, meaning drivers cannot hold a phone while driving. They can, however, stop and start a phone call and use GPS as long as it doesn't require input from a handheld device. 

California just passed a law that increases penalties for repeat offenders of their hands-free laws, which had already been in effect for years. Now, if the offender has a second incident within three years of the first offense, they will receive a point on their driving record. Furthermore, California passed a "Move Over, Slow Down" law which requires drivers that approach a stopped emergency vehicle with flashing lights on to take extra care. They must merge to another lane or slow down while passing. Bystanders that see a child locked in a car under the age of six in distress from either heat or cold can now trespass or damage the vehicle to rescue them. 

What legal duties do all drivers have in the US?

No matter what state you're in, the law requires that drivers take reasonable care to avoid harming someone when they get behind the wheel. What does reasonable care exactly mean? Let's take a look.

Driving at a sensible speed: Regardless of posted speed limits, drivers have to execute reasonable care when factors like road visibility, traffic conditions, and weather are at play. Even if a driver is going the speed limit, but it's raining heavily, and they cause an accident, their speed could be considered negligent because they did not act reasonably cautious under the circumstances. 

Proper lookout: When drivers decide to take their vehicle on the road, it is an expected norm that they take reasonable care to look out for other drivers, pedestrians, and potential road hazards. When drivers fail to stay alert, and they cause an accident, that may be considered negligent.

Maintaining control of the vehicle: Maintaining control of a vehicle is expected of drivers at all times, even if they are in an accident that is not their fault. Under some circumstances, failure to do so could be construed as negligence. 

Vehicle maintenance: Drivers are expected to maintain their vehicles so they can operate safely on the road. Suppose a driver is driving on bald tires or the brakes fail because of lack of maintenance. In that case, this could be seen as negligent operation of the vehicle. 

Driver duties as mandated by state law: While every state has different governing laws on the expectations for drivers, some laws have a presumption of negligence that requires the driver to disprove. These laws include driving under the influence, violation of the right of way rules, and driving on the wrong side of the road.

What are contributory and comparative negligence?

Contributory negligence makes it so that if a person was partially to blame for the accident, they could not collect compensation from the other party. Comparative negligence makes it so both parties can take their share of the blame and be compensated accordingly to the percentage of responsibility assigned by the insurance adjusters or the courts. There are only five states and the District of Columbia that use contributory negligence: Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. All other states use comparative negligence. Generally speaking, a person is considered negligent when they do not operate their vehicle using reasonable care. 

However, even in states that use comparative negligence, there are three versions. 

  1. Pure: All parties involved in the accident can collect damages
  2. Modified: You won't be able to collect damages if you're found to have the majority of fault
  3. Slight-gross: You're only able to collect damages if you're slightly negligent

For example, under the pure comparative negligence concept, if the plaintiff's total damages are $200,000 and the plaintiff is 50% at fault, they can collect $100,000 but are responsible for paying the other $100,000 on their own. 

Under modified comparative negligence, the plaintiff will not be able to recover damages if a jury determines they are at 50% or more at fault. Some states, such as Hawaii and Idaho, will not award damages if the plaintiff is 51% or more at fault. In Michigan, if the plaintiff is 51% at fault, economic damages are reduced, and the plaintiff cannot recover any noneconomic damages such as loss of enjoyment of activities from injuries. In cases like these, it's imperative to be represented by a well-versed personal injury lawyer to maximize the amount of compensation you can recover. 

The only state to observe slight-gross comparative negligence is South Dakota. When using this rule, fault percentages are replaced by either slight or gross contribution to the wreck. For example, if the other party were driving without their headlights during a rainstorm at night and caused an accident, that would be considered gross negligence even if you were slightly at fault because you didn't brake fast enough. 

When should you hire an attorney for a car accident?

Hopefully, we've been able to answer the question, "are all driving laws in the US the same" in this article. Additionally, we expect that with more information come even more questions. That's why talking to an attorney is highly recommended since driving laws across the US are different. We have expert personal injury lawyers all over the country that can help you with your personal injury lawsuit. 

Knowing the ins and outs with the insurance companies and the courts is critical when trying to recover compensation for injuries and vehicle damages. Sharing the details of your case is the first step towards winning your case. We invite you to contact Morgan & Morgan for a free, no-risk case evaluation today. And finally, we want to assure you that you'll have no out-of-pocket expenses. Our lawyers only get paid when we settle or win your case, so it's not a gamble like other types of lawsuits. 

Please take a second to explore our billion-dollar track record for success and learn a little about us. We're confident you'll be impressed. 

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