Criminal Law

Out-of-State Traffic Violations

By John McCurley, Attorney
What happens when you get an out-of-state traffic ticket.

Most motorists will at some point end up driving out of state—lots of people drive across state borders for business and pleasure. But what happens if you get a traffic ticket while driving through another state? Do you have to go to court or pay the fine? And will an out-of-state traffic conviction affect your home-state driving record?

Laws varies by state, but generally, an out-of-state traffic citation will have the same effect as if the violation was committed in the driver’s home state.

Interstate Traffic Violation Compacts

Most states are parties to one or more interstate traffic violation compacts. These compacts are agreements among the member states to share information and follow certain procedures when dealing with out-of-state traffic offenders. The “Driver’s License Compact” (DLC) and “Nonresident Violator Compact” (NVC) are two such agreements that nearly all states are members to. (Only Wisconsin and Michigan have declined to join both the DLC and NVC.)

Driver’s License Compact

In 1961, Nevada became the first state to join the DLC. All but five states are now members. The nonmembers are:

  • Georgia
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Tennessee, and
  • Wisconsin.

The DLC requires all member states to report traffic convictions of out-of-state drivers to the drivers’ home state. The home-state licensing authority (Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or similar state agency) is then generally supposed to treat the conviction as if it had been committed in the home state.

Take, for example, a California driver who’s convicted of speeding in Arizona. First, Arizona reports the conviction to California. The California DMV then takes the same action it would take if the driver had been caught speeding in California. In other words, the Arizona conviction counts as one “point”—the point value for a speeding violation in California—against the motorist’s California driving record. (Like many other states, California uses a point system to track and penalize moving violations.)

Nonresident Violator Compact

The NVC was created in the late 1970s. Currently, all states have joined except six:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Oregon, and
  • Wisconsin.

The NVC helps member states ensure that out-of-state traffic offenders pay their fines and otherwise comply with the terms of their citations. If an out-of-state motorist fails to comply with the terms of a citation, the member state that issued the ticket reports the failure to the driver’s home state. The home state then suspends the driver’s license until the driver satisfies the conditions of the out-of-state ticket.

Contesting an Out-of-State Ticket

If you get an out-of-state ticket, you’ll first need to decide whether to fight the ticket or just pay it and move on. Generally, you can avoid having to go to court by paying the citation within a certain period of time (usually 21 or 30 days). You can typically pay by mail, over the internet, or in person at the courthouse.

Contesting a ticket, however, usually means going to court or hiring an attorney to go for you. If you’re just passing through the state where you got the ticket, going to court yourself probably isn’t an option. In such a case, hiring a traffic attorney might be the best way to go if your mind is set on fighting the citation. (Read about some things to consider when deciding whether to hire a traffic lawyer.)

Questions for Your Attorney

  • If I have a Michigan or Wisconsin driver’s license and get an out-of-state ticket, will there be any consequences if I don’t pay it?
  • When you get cited for an out-of-state moving violation, can you do traffic school in your home state to get the ticket off your driving record?
  • If another state issues an arrest warrant because of an unpaid traffic ticket, can I be arrested in my home state?
  • Do the DLC and NVC apply to parking violations?
  • Can I hold a driver’s license in two different states at the same time?

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