Road trips are great. Interstate road trips are even better. But here’s what we forget. We have all found ourselves in unpleasant and tricky traffic situations with the cops outside our state. In that moment, the first question that popped into your head was if the trail was going to follow you home.
If the questions didn’t occur to you, it is probably because you have never had to think about this whole shebang before. Lucky you. But just in case you do or someone you know is in trouble and called you, all of this information is going to come in handy.
States have an agreement among themselves to share information about traffic violations by drivers across state lines. There are a couple of agreements and a bunch of other terms that define how to handle these kinds of situations. It is basically an agreement for a situation like this. When a kid goes into their neighbor’s house and gets into trouble, the parents decide to sit and talk about who is going to punish the kid and what it should be. This is the same thing between two states with respect to traffic violations.
To start with, the Driver License Compact and the Non-Resident Violator Compact are two agreements that states find extremely useful in these situations. They are useful in promoting highway safety across states. But for this to work, both states must be members of the different contracts and agreements about sharing information. That’s not the case with all 50 states.
Terms You Need to Understand before We Dive In
So, what are these contracts and how do they work? Let’s take a look and also brush up your knowledge of some other terms while we’re at it.
Driver License Compact
The first one to learn about is the Driver License Compact or DLC which is based on the concept of ‘One Driver, One License, One Record’ and came into existence in the 1960s. It is a compact between member states to share information about the licensing process with each other. But the compact also has provisions about information and the procedure to report a traffic offense, convictions, suspension of license, etc.
This is supposed to make things easy for both the states when a person with a driver’s license from one state commits an offense in another state. So the state where the offense is committed learns about the procedures of the driver’s home state and forwards the complaint to them. In this case, the home state takes the complaint and processes it just like it would if the violation happened in their jurisdiction. So, if you have a Colorado license but get into trouble in Utah, the latter forwards your complaint back home and your home state will process it as if it took place in Colorado.
Now, this action includes the points assessed on minor violations like speeding and suspension of license but also on major violations like DUI. What might be a surprise for you is that this is applicable even when your car is not moving. That’s stuff like parking tickets and tinted windows.
Non-Resident Violator Compact
Next up is the Non-Resident Violator Compact of the NRVC. Since not all members are a part of the DLC, a reciprocal driving agreement called the Non-Resident Violator Compact exists. It came into existence in the 1970s. If you are out of your home state which is not a part of the DLC, there is an obvious problem with information sharing. But if you have committed a traffic offense, you must pay for it, right? In that case, the Non-Resident Violator Compact holds you accountable. How? We’re getting to that.
If you get into trouble in another state but don’t take care of business which is a fine or whatever other punishment, you will be reported in your home state and they might cancel your license till you do what you are supposed to. You will be penalized in your home state and that includes points assessed on your driving record. Now, not all states have signed the NVC either. States like Alaska, California, Montana, Oregon, Wisconsin and Michigan are not members of this reciprocal driving agreement.
Driver License Agreement
Then there is the Driver’s License Agreement or the DLA. This is a voluntary agreement that is the combination of the Driver License Compact and the Non-Resident Violator Compact into a reciprocal driving law. The idea is to promote the ‘one identity, one driver license—one driver control record’ concept. So that all drivers inside a particular state border are held to the same standards when there is a traffic offense.
And states don’t actually have to enact a statute to be a part of it. They just need to submit a notice with the necessary documents and get approval from the DLA Board. While this agreement has been around for a while, only three states Connecticut, Massachusetts and Arkansas are a part of it.
This new agreement is all about tougher fines for drivers when driving in another state and also holding them responsible for laws in the state they are driving even if it is not applicable in their home state. A good example of this is laws about window tinting. These vary from state to state. But drivers must meet the requirements in the state that they are visiting or passing through.
National Driver Register
And finally, there is the National Driver Register or the NDR. This is the computerized database of information about every driver who has a license that has been revoked or suspended. This is also a database of those drivers who were convicted of major traffic violations. This includes driving under the influence (DUI) and other drugs.
All state motor vehicle agencies give the NDR a list of names of all drivers who should not be driving anymore for a serious violation. When someone applies for a license, this is the database the authorities in every state check to make sure they don’t end up giving a license to the wrong person.
How It Works
DLC is the oldest and the most crucial agreement in this context. All states that want to be a part of the compact must enact legislation. Once it is in place, these states have to share licensing information with each other. This includes information about traffic offenses, convictions related to them and the kind of administrative action that can be taken against non-resident drivers.
Since convictions are the severe ones, here’s an outline of how they work. If an out of state driver is convicted of a traffic offense in a court, all DLC member states must report it to the licensing authority of the driver’s home state within 15 days of receiving the report from the court.
The report must identify the driver, describe the offense, name the court where the conviction was handed out and include the date of the arrest and conviction. The report must also say whether the driver pled guilty or not guilty and if the conviction was because the driver gave up their bail or bond or any other security. The report must also mention any special findings when it is applicable. So it is a really detailed report that does not leave out any detail.
It also talks about the kind of vehicle and if it had any hazardous materials in it. The authorities also forward any other details such as if they have suspended your license and if there are any supporting documents your home state should have.
Basically, if you get into trouble outside your state, that trail follows you home. What that suspension of the license means in your home state is up to the authorities there. Some states accept the suspension handed by the other state while some don’t.
Typically, the home state must act the same way as the state where the offense was committed when it comes to suspensions, revocations and limitations on a driver’s license. But that does not always happen. Some of your home states are very reciprocal but some others act only if there is a conviction.
This is why the punishment in your home state could be a lot less lenient than the state you were visiting or passing through. And what kind of action you will face back home really depends on the state. In fact, if your home state does not have a statute for an offense you committed in a visiting state, you might not have to face any action at all.
States That Are Not Members
There are a few different scenarios to consider. States like Georgia, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Tennessee are not members of the Drivers License Compact. Nevada repealed the legislation in 2007 but it still broadly follows the terms of the agreement. And it works the other way round too.
Some states share information even though they are not a part of the DLC which is a massive inconvenience for you. For example, Massachusetts has not enacted the DLC but it shares information through the Registry of Motor Vehicles or RMV. Some others use the Non-Resident Violator Compact to do the same. That’s worse because the NRVC often leads to a suspension for moving violations.
Some states like Colorado, Maryland, Nevada, New York and Pennsylvania don’t assess points on your driving record for minor violations. In fact, Pennsylvania transfers driving points from another member state after certain conditions are met. New Jersey gives you two points for all minor violations outside the state.
It doesn’t matter what its own point system says about the violation. For these states, the DLC applies only if there has been a major violation. Michigan joined the lot only in 2018 when it passed House Bill 6011.
While the DLC is about sharing information and taking necessary action, member states have the right to take action when you commit an offense in a non-member state. So, it’s really about how responsible your home state feels.
The bottom line is that the states needed a way to communicate with each other about traffic violations across state lines. The states needed to formulate laws to manage this information flow and it is still some kind of a work in progress.
It is possible that in the future, the DLC and the NRVC merge into the Drivers License Agreement (that only has three members now) and turn it into a federal thing.
The best way to learn, apart from Googling on the internet, is to talk to a lawyer who specializes in this area. You know, just to be sure you’re not paying more than you should. And we don’t mean just money.
The DLC was created with the idea of handing out the same kind of punishment to folks who commit the same violation, no matter where their license is from. It’s like talking on your phone while driving. It is banned in some states but not all. So, if you are from New Mexico and were stopped for using a phone in Washington state, you will be in trouble (unless it is hands-free). So now, Washington reports you to New Mexico which does not have that bam. In that case, you walk.
The DLC was the result of adopting the Beamer Resolution which was adopted by Congress in 1958. Before that resolution, all interstate compacts needed congressional approval.
Since that step was removed, states were encouraged to form such compacts and further traffic safety. A year later, the DLC was drafted and Nevada became the first state to adopt it in 1961. Ironic when you consider that they repealed the compact in 2007.
In 1962, Mississippi became the second state and by the end of the 60s, 27 states had joined it—through the 70s, 80s and the 90s more than 40 states joined the compact and helped the DLC become a viable interstate instrument.
The origin story is important because a lot of laws come from a certain amount of conventional wisdom. Knowing it helps us follow these laws with the logic they were intended to impose and also gain a deeper appreciation for the system.