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Will an out-of-state DUI keep me from driving in my home state?

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Q:

Will an out-of-state DUI keep me from driving in my home state?

A:

Driving under the influence (DUI) is illegal in every state. In fact, drivers can be charged in all states with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs with any amount of intoxicant in their system if they are not safely able to operate their vehicle; or with a per se violation if their blood alcohol concentration is 0.08% or greater; or if their BAC is 0.04% or greater if they are operating a commercial vehicle.

License Suspended While Driving in Another State

However, it's not unusual for many drivers who are arrested for driving under the influence in a state that is not their home state to assume that their home state will not find out about the offense. Drivers might therefore decide to simply avoid the out-of-state hearing and think that the problem will simply go away—with the courts deciding that pursuing a DUI case is simply too expensive or too difficult.

While this might have been true before the advancement of certain technological tools, the world is now connected. Drivers are no longer able to hide from a DUI conviction by simply failing to appear for a DUI hearing. Now, regardless of where the hearing occurs, avoidance may result in both a DUI conviction as well as a bench warrant issued for the driver's failure to appear.

Interstate Driver’s License Compact

DUI laws are enforced at the state level. If you have been arrested for DUI, it’s important that you review your state’s laws and talk to a DUI lawyer who is familiar with the laws in your state. Whether or not your state will be notified about outstanding convictions, charges and warrants related to your DUI arrest in another state may depend on several factors.

For example, some states have agreed to participate in what is termed the "Interstate Driver’s License Compact." Under this compact, member states have agreed that if your license is suspended in another state for driving under the influence, they will notify your home state. Your home state has also agreed to suspend your driver's license.

Not all states participate in the Interstate Driver’s License Compact (e.g. Wisconsin, Tennessee, Georgia, Massachusetts and Michigan do not participate). Even if your state is a participating member, however, the state may have provisions that determine whether the license suspension will be upheld. For example, some states may require the DUI laws in the other state to be similar to your home state’s laws, the description of the conviction to be similar, and the enforcement provisions to be similar.

National Driver Registry and License Renewal

So what if you live in a state that is not part of the Interstate Driver’s License Compact? If you live in Wisconsin, Tennessee, Georgia, Massachusetts or Michigan, you might think that your home state will never find out about your DUI conviction and license suspension. Think again.

All 51 U.S. driver license jurisdictions also share information about drivers and whether a driver has received a suspension or revocation through the Problem Driver Pointer System. The PDPS, which is administered by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), is a computerized database that contains information about all drivers who have lost their right to operate a motorized vehicle due to a serious traffic-related offense, including a DUI arrest or conviction.

Commercial driving information is also maintained and shared through the Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS). This database contains information specifically about commercial drivers, information that is provided when a driver moves to another state, receives an out-of-state conviction or withdrawal, or a request is made about the driver’s history.

Not only does the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) (or the equivalent agency) in every state have access to the PDPS and the Commercial Driver’s License Information System, other people or groups also have access, including the following:

  • The National Transportation Safety Board for accident investigations
  • Federal Highway Administration for accident investigations
  • Federal agencies performing background investigations for employment
  • State and federal driver licensing officials
  • The Federal Railroad Administration and employers of locomotive operators
  • The Federal Aviation Administration for airman medical certification
  • The U.S. Coast Guard for merchant mariner certification

What should I do if I receive a license suspension or revocation in another state?

Unfortunately, as mentioned above, with the technological advancements of tracking drivers, it’s unlikely that your home state will never find out about your license revocation following a DUI arrest or conviction.

If you have had your license suspended or revoked in another state, you need to contact that state and complete their license reinstatement procedures. If you contact the DMV in your state, they will most likely reiterate that there is nothing they can do about the suspension until your record is clear in the state where the offense occurred.

Bottom line: It’s unlikely that you can hide from a license suspension following a DUI arrest or conviction. It’s best to face the issue head on by contacting the DMV in the state where the offense occurred. After the suspension has been cleared in that state, contact your home state to find out what additional steps you need to take.

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