Top 10 American Car Laws To Know

February 21, 2023

Motor vehicle laws are different all across the United States. These are the top ten categories of laws affecting drivers in every state. Traffic speeding laws are different in each state, and it is wise to check them before planning a trip.


In all US states except New Hampshire, motorists are required to carry liability insurance. In case of a collision, liability insurance protects the other driver. This can help cover costs associated with repair of the vehicle as well as medical costs. Collision insurance is optional and protects the driver’s car.


Generally, the speed limit across the United States is 65 miles per hour on the highway. Generally, drivers are ticketed when they reach 10 or more miles above the speed limit, though this depends on the discretion of the responding officer. Many states have set these limits higher in rural areas. Traffic speeding laws mean that penalties increase as the driver goes faster.

Driving under the Influence

Driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol is illegal in every state. Most states have the legal blood alcohol limit of 0.08%, the rough equivalent of one alcoholic drink taken in the past hour. There is no minimum blood content for drugs. Penalties increase after the first offense.

Yield for Pedestrians

In all states, drivers must yield to pedestrians in the road. Car laws vary as to whether the vehicle or pedestrian has right of way in certain situations. Generally, extra penalties apply when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk.

Move Over for Emergency Vehicles

When emergency vehicles are traveling in the same direction, state laws require that cars move over for them. If it is not possible to vacate the lane, laws allow the car to slow down by 10 mph below the speed limit.


Every state requires that cars be registered, some annually and some biannually. Registration also allows state and local governments to levy excise tax on these vehicles.


Most states require that vehicles are inspected by a certified technician once a year. Some states also require emissions inspections. Safety inspections cover headlamps, directional signals, brakes, tires, and other areas.

Child Restraints and Safety Belts

Every state except New Hampshire mandates that drivers and passengers wear seat belts. In New Hampshire, those under 18 are required to wear safety belts.

All states require that young children be placed in car seats. Car seat laws vary from state to state, with some requiring that children be in belt positioning booster seats until they are 8 years old or 4 foot, 9 inches tall.

Distracted Driving

Many states have enacted new car laws to combat against distracted driving. Some states require drivers to use hands free technology to make and answer phone calls. Others merely prohibit texting behind the wheel.

Licensing Laws

Each state has different car laws for driver licensing. In most cases, drivers can first be licensed at 16 years of age after completing a sanctioned driver training program. Written tests and road tests are required in most states.

It is wise to check the most common laws before driving in an unfamiliar state. Rules and penalties may be different at your destination, and it pays to know the changes.