Out of State Driving Laws: What Do I Need to Know?

Driving in another state without knowing the local driving laws could land you in hot water. Moreover, if you experience an accident out of your home state, knowing which steps to take and how the insurance process works can be vital for recovering damages. Most importantly, perhaps, observing and understanding out of state driving laws can be crucial for keeping you, your family, and other road users safe.

Getting hurt in an out of state car accident can be confusing. If another driver caused your out of state accident, Morgan & Morgan is here for you. We could help you recover compensation for medical bills, property damage, pain and suffering, and other damages. Contact us now to learn about your legal rights and the next best steps for free.  

Driving Laws Applying in All States

Although each state can issue driving licenses and set its own traffic laws, many laws across the country are similar and only differ in minor details. Driver’s licenses from other states are accepted throughout the US. In addition to having similar driving laws, most states require drivers to have vehicle insurance, although the minimum coverage amounts and finer details vary from one state to another.

Drivers in all states are responsible for operating their vehicles with reasonable care and attention. The following driving behaviors are generally unlawful in all states:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Ignoring traffic signs and signals
  • Speeding above the posted speed limits
  • Distracted driving

Another motorist, no matter in which state the accident occurred, could be responsible for your accident and damages if they acted dangerously or carelessly in causing your accident and injuries. 

Some Driving Laws Differ Between States

Road laws are relatively similar all over the US, although there can be some differences between states. Federal laws and agencies are generally responsible for regulating major road laws across the country. However, state matters include:

  • Setting speed limits
  • Determining safety equipment requirements
  • Deciding on insurance minimums
  • Dealing with vehicle registration rules and regulations

If you drive responsibly and with due care, observing the rules and regulations that apply in your own state, driving out of state should be relatively straightforward. However, refreshing your driving law knowledge can never hurt when you plan to drive out of state. 

Like driving laws vary slightly between states, the punishment for breaking traffic laws, such as speeding or driving drunk, can also vary. The following two examples illustrate how much state driving laws and penalties can differ: 

Drunk Driving Laws

In all states, driving is illegal with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above. However, drivers with a BAC of 0.05 could be convicted of a lesser drunk driving charge in some states. BAC limits of 0.01 or 0.02 for under 21 drivers apply in a few states. Some states have zero-tolerance when it comes to alcohol and driving. 

It is important to note that the legal terms for intoxication behind the wheel can also differ between states, potentially causing confusion when driving out of state. The following are all terms describing driving while intoxicated: 

  • Driving under the influence (DUI)
  • Driving while intoxicated or impaired (DWI)
  • Operating under the influence (OUI)
  • Operating while intoxicated (OWI)

Lastly, the penalties for drunk driving also vary widely across the country. For example, in Arizona, Georgia, and Tennessee, drunk driving results in mandatory jail time for first offenders. At the other end of the spectrum, driving drunk as a first offense does not even count as a crime in Wisconsin.

Distracted Driving Laws

Although distracted driving is generally unlawful, the definitions of what counts as distracted driving, the regulations, and the punishments can vary drastically between the different states. In some cases, even cities have passed their own driving laws different from state law. In Montana, for example, there are no statewide laws making distracted driving illegal. However, several counties and cities have passed their own legislation regarding distracted driving. While texting and driving is illegal in some Montana counties, texting while driving is permitted under state law.

New York has some of the strictest distracted driving laws and punishments in the whole country. Drivers are only allowed to use hands-free devices. If they are caught making a hand-held phone call or texting while driving, drivers face steep fines and points on their licenses. Most states fall somewhere in between these extremes. 

Out of State Driving Laws Can Be Confusing

While most of us know the driving laws in our state, it is impossible to know every state’s laws and regulations. However, it can be an excellent idea to look up the applicable driving laws when you are planning to drive out of state. Making an effort to research and understand out of state driving laws can ensure a safe trip.

However, if you find it all too confusing or you plan to drive through many different states, you may not be able to remember all the road law nuances. In this instance, it can be extremely helpful to play it safe. You could, for example:

  • Abstain from alcohol completely when driving 
  • Refrain from using your phone at all during the drive
  • Always drive defensively and carefully
  • Obey all local speed limits and traffic signs

Playing it safe can go a long way to keep you on the right side of the law in all states.

The Differences Between No-Fault and At-Fault States

There is another difference in state law worth considering which comes into play when you experience an accident out of state. Knowing about the finer details of state law can be essential, especially if another is responsible for your accident and you have damages or even injuries. No-fault and at-fault states have fundamentally different insurance claim processes. Here are some of the main differences:

Car Accidents in At-Fault States

If you experience an accident in an at-fault state, the driver who caused the crash is generally responsible for compensating you for damages and expenses. Typically, their insurance company would reimburse you for your costs.  

Car Accidents in No-Fault States

In no-fault states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, and others, drivers are required to carry personal injury protection insurance (PIP). PIP is designed to cover the vehicle owner and passengers’ medical bills, income losses, and some other damages up to a limit, regardless of who is at fault for the accident. However, even in a no-fault state, you could still hold the at-fault driver to account if your damages exceed your PIP coverage.

A Car Accident Attorney Can Advise You

If you live in a no-fault state and experience an accident in an at-fault state or vice versa, the insurance claim process can get convoluted and confusing. Consulting with an experienced car accident lawyer from our firm can help you understand your situation after experiencing a car accident out of state.

Your Next Best Steps After an Out of State Car Accident 

Getting into a car accident out of state can be nerve-wracking. Immediately afterwards, you may not know what to do for the best, especially when away from home. However, there are some steps you can take when you get hurt or sustain car damage while driving out of state:  

Call 911 

As with any accident at home, calling 911 for law enforcement should be your first step. If any injured individuals are at the scene, requesting medical assistance as soon as possible is crucially important.

Collect Information

In the heat of the moment, it can be challenging to think clearly. However, make sure to collect all involved parties’ contact information, registration, and insurance information, if possible. If there are any eyewitnesses, try to obtain their contact details too. 

See a Doctor

Even if you feel fine after a car accident, aim to see a doctor within 24 hours of the accident for a check-up. Some injuries have delayed symptoms, and receiving prompt treatment can ensure a speedy recovery. A medical report is also a crucial piece of evidence of your injuries and expenses.

Contact a Lawyer

With an out of state accident, in particular, having an experienced attorney by your side can take the weight off your shoulders. A car accident attorney at Morgan & Morgan knows the relevant state laws applying in your case and can advise you comprehensively. 

Car Accident Victims Could Recover Damages 

While there can be some legal differences if you have an accident out of state, you could receive compensation if another driver caused your accident, injuries, and financial losses. You could qualify for damages such as:

Medical Expenses 

If you get hurt in a car accident out of state, you could be entitled to all medical expenses related to your accident injuries, including: 

  • Hospital stays
  • Medical treatments and surgery
  • Physiotherapy
  • Medications
  • Specialist appointments
  • Diagnostic tests
  • Medical transportation
  • A home health aide 
  • Medical devices

Income Loss

Depending on the scope of your injuries, you could be off work for weeks or months, recovering and healing. Individuals with permanent or disabling injuries may never return to their careers. Victims of car accidents could qualify for loss of wages and future loss of earning capacity.

Non-Economic Damages

Significant injuries can result in considerable pain, suffering, emotional distress, and other non-economic damages. Victims could seek compensation for:

  • Physical pain and anguish
  • Emotional suffering
  • Disfigurement
  • Disability
  • Loss of life quality
  • Loss of a limb 

You could also receive other damages, depending on your specific car accident facts and the severity of your injuries. 

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