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States with the strictest driving laws

These are the states where you don’t want to get pulled over.

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Keys, handcuffs and a glass of brown liquor

At least pre-COVID, summertime in America has meant taking part in a time-honored tradition: the road trip. However, while these states may be united, they are often not only divided by the laws which govern their roadways but on how those laws are enforced.

To find out which state had the strictest driving laws in our nation, Finder compared the penalties for drunk driving, reckless driving, speeding, along with licensing laws across all 50 states and found that Delaware is the state with the strictest driving laws overall in the US.

Which state has the strictest driving laws?

According to Finder’s ranking system, Delaware takes top position for the state with the harshest driving laws. If you’re charged and convicted with reckless driving in Delaware, you could be hit with a seemingly reasonable $300 maximum fine and face a minimum of 10 days in incarceration.

While Delawareans need only renew their licenses every eight years, which is one of the longest renewal periods in the nation, citizens are required to pass an eye test at the DMV — no online or mail renewals for people from the Diamond State.

Other factors include a maximum speed limit of 65 mph across the state along with a minimum license suspension of one year and a maximum fine of $1,150 for drunk driving.

Want to know where your state ends up? Check out our interactive map or table.

Which state has the lowest speed limit?

As you’re making your way across the country, you’ve got to keep your eyes on speed limits that can range from 60 mph to 80 mph on US interstates, depending on the state.

The most common maximum posted speed limit overall in the US is 70 mph. However, three states — Nevada, Montana and South Dakota — allow drivers to travel at speeds of 80 mph. At the other end of the spectrum is Hawaii, at 60 mph the state with the lowest posted maximum speed limit.

Maximum posted speed limitNumber of statesStates
601Hawaii
6511Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont
7021Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin
7514Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming
803Nevada, Montana and South Dakota

States divided stance on traffic cameras

How likely you are to get caught speeding often is tied to whether the state you’re driving in permits the use of automated speed cameras. Across the US, only 18 states have laws on the books that allow automated speed cameras, with a further three states allowing them through city ordinances.

At the other end of the spectrum are the eight states where automated cameras are generally or completely prohibited under state law.

Another 21 states are staying out of the argument with no state or city laws about speed cameras.

Most of these states take similar stances on the use of red light cameras.

Permission statusNumber of states allowing speed camerasNumber of states allowing red light cameras
By state law106
By state law and city ordinance815
By city ordinance but not state law32
No state law or city ordinance2119
Prohibited by state law88

Which state is hardest on drunk drivers?

Oregon has some of the toughest laws regarding drunk driving in the nation. If convicted, drunk drivers face a minimum jail sentence of 2 days or 80 hours, fines ranging from $1,000 to $6,250, the suspension of their license for a minimum of one year and mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device in their cars once they’re back on the road.

Penalties for a DUI in the US vary by the chances of you winding up in jail, whether you’ll need to install an interlock device, how long you’ll lose your license and how much you’ll be out of pocket for a fine.

If you’re caught drunk driving in one of 23 states with Monopoly rules, you’re going straight to jail — do not pass go, do not collect $200. In fact, a DUI charge in Nebraska will have you going to jail for a minimum of seven days.

As far as where you have the chance of paying the most out of pocket, that title goes to Alaska, which imposes a maximum fine of $25,000 for a DUI. North Carolina has the lowest maximum fine at a paltry $200.

Twelve states force those convicted of drunk driving to install an ignition interlock device, which requires the driver to blow into a mouthpiece for a breath sample in order for the car to start.

What state imposes the largest reckless driving penalties?

Across the US, the average maximum fine for reckless driving is $879, with 31 states imposing a maximum fine of $0 to $999 for the first offence.

However, there are three states where you really don’t want to cop a reckless driving charge, all requiring fines of $5,000 or more: Washington, Oregon and New Hampshire. If you’re caught driving recklessly in Washington State, you could face a maximum fine of $5,000. That figure jumps to $6,250 across the border in Oregon. New Hampshire has no maximum fine for your reckless driving offense but does have a minimum of $500, and no minimum period of incarceration.

Maximum fines for reckless drivingNumber of states in maximum range
$0-$99931
$1,000-$1,99913
$2,000-$2,9993
$3,000-$3,9990
$4,000-$4,9990
$5,000+3

State with shortest licensing renewal period

The average driver license renewal period in the US is every 6.4 years. However, if you live in Minnesota or Ohio, you’ll need to schedule renewal every four years. Neither state allows license renewals online or by mail, and both require you to drag your butt into the DMV to pass a vision test.

Tennessee is the laxest state as far as its licensing renewal laws, allowing residents to renew their licenses every eight years online or by mail with no need for a vision test.

How your driving record affects your car insurance rate

A cheap auto insurance rate can be tough if you don’t have a clean driving record. Potential car insurers consider driving infractions — from speeding tickets to drunk driving convictions — when underwriting your premiums, and if your record is less than stellar, you can generally expect to pay more for your coverage.

The easiest way to avoid your premiums going up is to keep a clean driving history. However, if you have got a ticket for speeding, running a red light or worse, all is not lost: many insurers specialize in nonstandard insurance policies for high-risk drivers.

Ask the experts

Professor Oscar Brookins headshot

During a cross examination of an officer in court, where do most defendants find success?

The key to any cross examination is to seek to undermine the certainty a witness expresses by finding weaknesses in their story. Since authorities are typically purporting to know the laws applicable and to have observed another who violated the law in some regard, so questioning the officer to ascertain knowledge of the relevant statutes and ordinances under which the officer took actions is critical. The officer in making the case is presumed to have been able to see the perpetrator clearly and the circumstances and surroundings where the violation occurred, so questioning the officer to determine if the officer was a careful observer is important. Observations should be unobstructed so questions to determine if a typical person could have seen clearly what the officer’s citation alleges is critical. One might ask an officer what color blouse or shirt the judge or a prosecutor is wearing. Maybe a few questions testing visual acuity by referring to some object in the courtroom or distances between objects. Again using things in plain sight in the hearing room can be an effective way of learning if the officer is observant of their surroundings.

Dr. Tim Query headshot

With young people showing a higher propensity to drive recklessly do you believe raising the driving age would be beneficial? Why or why not?

Based on some research I’ve done in this area, the factors impacting young drivers are mixed. While automobiles are safer, the temptation to drive distracted with smartphones, etc. is greater than ever. Since graduated licensing programs were enacted in the 1990s, the number of young people involved in fatal crashes have been reduced. Graduated Drivers Licensing, or GDL, is a three-stage approach to granting young drivers full license privileges. Most states have some form of GDL laws in place. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of drivers age 15 to 20 involved in fatal crashes totaled 4,347 in 2011, down 48% from the 8,325 involved in 2002. The number dropped by another 1,000 to 3,255 in 2017. However, one survey found that 87% of parents think teens will obey GDL laws but that only 56% of teens think they will. Raising the minimum driving age would probably be helpful, since enforcement of GDL laws and texting while driving appears to be lacking. Interestingly, more teenagers are delaying obtaining their driver’s license later than the minimum age, so if this trend continues it might mitigate reckless driving enough to solve the problem without the need to legislated an older age requirement.

Would citizens having their own dashcams help or hurt in the long run?

I would think it would be helpful to have video proof of an accident or other adverse behavior. We are living in an age when video of disputed events are more readily available. Having a dashcam recording questionable behavior might come in handy in situations where there is not someone standing nearby with their smartphone recording the situation. I suppose if having a dashcam somehow resulted in distracted driving it could do more harm than good.

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