Driver’s license in the U.S.A

A driver’s license is a document required by every State in the U.S. The driver must issue his driver’s license in the State in which he resides, but it will be valid for driving throughout the United States.

Driver's license in the U.S.A

This allows the authorities of the different states to request the driver’s license and, depending on the driver’s behavior, they have the right to suspend driving privileges if the driver has violated any traffic regulation.

IMPORTANT: If the license is commercial, it is standardized by U.S. federal regulations.

History of the driver’s license

It all began in 1901 in New York, which was the first State to license and register new motorized vehicles, as the number of these vehicles began to increase dramatically. Since 1918, all American States began to use license plates to obtain a vehicle.

In addition to the license plate, the mandatory driver’s license was added, although it was a process that took some time to become a reality, since in 1935 only 39 states required the permit, although only a few required a test so that drivers could obtain their driver’s license.

Driver license laws

U.S. federal law establishes a minimum age to be able to drive a vehicle. This age is 21 years old, so you must be at least 21 years old to obtain a full driver’s license. This applies to interstate commercial vehicles.

However, to drive a school bus, for example, it is necessary to have a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License), but the age is no longer 21 years old, but the minimum age to be able to drive these cars is now 25 years old, although it depends on the driver’s reputation.

Some States now require restricted and interstate driver’s licenses, which were designed to allow drivers over 18 to drive commercial vehicles in those States.

FACT: Typically, drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 are not allowed to drive school buses, trailers or dangerous goods, due to their complexity and liability.

Standard and special licenses

Non-Restricted licenses

The Non-Restricted license is the most common license among U.S. drivers. Depending on the State, licenses may be of different types, to distinguish whether it is a regular or special license, such as motorcycle, chauffeurs, or restricted license, among others.

Hardship license for minors

The hardship licenses for minors are intended for minors between 14 and 15 years old, although, depending on the case, they can reach up to 18 years of age. The purpose of this permit is for emergencies, such as health problems, in which the minor must take an older relative to a medical center, or for economic hardship, so the minor cannot use public transportation or other means to go to school or work.

Provisional licenses

The provisional permit is the same as a driver’s license, but is intended for minors between the ages of 14 and 17. This permit is valid in all states except South Dakota. Depending on the state, these graduated licenses have a certain time restriction, at which time the driver must apply for a new driver’s license or the license will no longer be valid.

Motorcycle license

As the name implies, this permit is for those who ride motorcycles. Depending on the State you are in, you may be required to have this license, or some insurance or registration.

On the other hand, you may be required to have an additional permit to ride a motorcycle with a sidecar.

FACT: In the U.S., there is no difference between a low-powered and a full-powered motorcycle when issuing a driver’s license.

Chauffeur’s license

The chauffeur’s license is known as “Class E”, although this does not apply to all states, as some do not even require a special permit to drive a cab or even a limousine. Others, on the contrary, only add an endorsement to the regular license to differentiate it from the rest.

Permit for disabled people

This license is intended for disabled persons who have responsibility for driving and parking. If this standard requirement is met, the special license is issued to the person with a certain degree of disability.

FACT: In some states, the disabled driver may be required to surrender his or her permit because of his or her condition.

Improved licenses

Improved licenses are issued to citizens residing in Washington, California, New York, Michigan, Vermont and Minnesota. These permits must be applied for with a U.S. passport and birth certificate proving the driver’s nationality.

The EDL (Enhanced Driver’s License) and WHTI (Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative) are compatible documents that can be used to cross borders, both maritime and land, entering from Mexico, the Caribbean or Canada.

FACT: Motorcycle and commercial licenses can be upgraded.

Using the license as proof of age and identification

Identity theft has always been a problem for the identification of citizens. This is why the Social Security Number (SSN) does not appear on the driver’s license. To facilitate the recognition of the age of drivers, the AAMVA (American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators) has imposed two license formats.

Driver's license in the United States

On the one hand, there are the licenses for those under 21 years of age, whose format is vertical. On the other hand, those over 21 years of age have a horizontal license. This simplifies the authorities’ job of verifying whether they are over or under 21 years of age, since, just by seeing whether the license is vertical or horizontal, it is possible to know their age.

Thus, it is easier to know if the person is authorized to, for example, buy alcohol, something that should only be done by people over 21 years of age.

Real ID card

The applicant for the Real ID must present, for renewal or new application, any citizenship document: the Social Security number, two proofs of State residence, U.S. passport, and, if necessary, a certificate of name change. Once these documents are submitted, the State must verify them and will keep a copy of them.

Depending on the State, the Real ID can be identified by the color (gold or black) of the star in the upper right corner of the card.

IMPORTANT: You can only have one Real ID.

Digital dirvers licenses

Technology is advancing more and more and, in this case, it was California, Iowa and Delaware that took the initiative to propose digital driver’s licenses, so that they can be used as ID cards.

To obtain your license, you must install the MorphoTrust USA application on your cell phone. This caused a lot of commotion regarding the privacy policy, since a police officer who needs to corroborate the license data, must enter it directly from the driver’s personal cell phone.

More information

If you want more information about driver’s licenses and all the location of the DMV Offices, from Alabama to Wyoming, do not hesitate to click here.