When it comes to how a ticket in your home state affects your driver's license status in another state, the answer is complex and changing each year. If you want to know how much information follows you around, the quick answer is: yes it does, so watch your speed. Your unpaid speeding ticket in California, for example, will prevent you from being able to renew your Ohio driver's license. The more complete answer is that different information follows you different places in different ways.
Here's how it works: There are three major databases that keep track of your driver's license info: the National Driver Register (NDR, also referred to as the Problem Driver Pointer System (PDPS)), the Driver License Compact (DLC) and the Non-Resident Violator Compact (NRVC). None of these names sound like places at which you'd want to sit down and have dinner, do they?
The NDR: Don't Show Up On This List
The NDR is a creation of The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA's "primary mission is to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries," part of which it attempts to do by keeping track of infamous drivers, and although its name suggests commercial license holders -- like truck drivers -- it's more than that. It keeps tabs on regular car drivers as well.
The National Driver Register keeps records on "drivers who have had their licenses revoked or suspended, or who have been convicted of serious traffic violations such as driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs." Every state and the District of Columbia submit information to the NDR and they are obligated to check the NDR before granting any license privileges. Your name on the NDR doesn't hinder getting a license; it is merely a way of keeping track of your violations. However, if your license has been suspended, revoked, or otherwise cancelled, or you've been reported as a problem driver in any state, there's a very good chance your license application will get a red "Denied" stamped across it.
Here's an example of how the NDR works. Say your home state is Pennsylvania, and you have a driver's license there. Pennsylvania's DoT will check the National Driver Register three and six months before you are up for renewal, and if it finds an issue in another state, such as a DUI in Florida that has not been attended to, they'll let you know. You would then need to resolve the issue in Florida before you could renew your license in your home state. You are still legally allowed to drive in Pennsylvania as long as your PA license is valid; you simply can't get a new license. So, the clock would be ticking.
If you are in the NDR your record will consist of your name, gender, date of birth, license number, and the name of the state that reported you. Anything more detailed, like a specific violation reported or information on a suspension or conviction, is not included (the reporting state holds on to that). Various bodies can access the information, like a company that employs drivers or one that hires pilots, but the amount of information they receive might differ. An employer of drivers is notified of anything reported to the NDR in the past three years, while an airline is notified of any record from the past five years.
You have a right to find out if you're listed in the NDR, and you can get a copy of any NDR file sent to a potential employer. This can be handy, especially for commercial drivers, because if your home state doesn't take the necessary steps, you could be pulled over and stripped of your CDL in another state. Your state's license issuer will have the guidelines and forms to request that information, or you can call the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) directly at 202-366-4800 for more info.
The DLC and NRVC: How States Know Where You've Been
The way tickets themselves actually follow you are results of the Driver License Compact and the Non-Resident Violator Compact. They are agreements between some states, but both will eventually evolve into the Driver License Agreement.
All three of those items are products of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which is "a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization developing model programs in motor vehicle administration, law enforcement and highway safety." Think of it as a treaty organization for state bodies that deal with licensing and motor vehicle laws, with the aim of making laws and punishments more uniform across state lines. Yet, while the AAMVA can form policy on issues such as tinted windows and laws against radar and laser detectors, it is up to an individual state to ratify and join any provision. Having been around since 1933, the body's goal now is "one driver, one license, one record."
Unlike the NDR, which merely notifies a state to tell you to address a problem elsewhere, the DLC effectively makes a violation in another state the equivalent of a violation in your home state.
To go back to the Pennsylvania and Florida example, if you get a ticket in Florida the Pennsylvania DOT will assess points to your PA license. If your driving privileges are suspended in Florida, then Pennsylvania will suspend your license. The NDR only requires Pennsylvania to hold back your driving rights until you address the matter in Florida, whereas the DLC makes you pay the price for your violations in Florida no matter where you are.
The NRVC works in the same manner, but in being less onerous, it resides somewhere between the DLC and NDR. If you get a ticket in another state and don't pay it, your home state will suspend your license until you handle the issue in the other state. However, your home state will not issue points and penalties on your license, as is the case with the DLC. On the other hand, if your home state isn't a member of the NRVC and you get pulled over somewhere else, you might be forced immediately to post bond before you can drive again.
How the states process violations and which violations they take into consideration also differ: some only use it for what they consider serious offenses, while some have further requirements for taking action. And, most importantly, violations can only be "shared" if both states have the same violation to begin with.
The DLA: The Future (And Why You Should Be Careful Going Forward)
Closing loopholes is where the Driver License Agreement comes in, and it's done with a bit of an iron fist. Any state becoming a party to the DLA submits to the fact that DLA regulations supercede any state law contrary to it. The DLA requires states to take action even if the home state doesn't have the same statute under which you were ticketed.
Say you get cited for careless driving in Colorado but your home state has no such violation; in that case, your home state will look for the closest comparable citation it could issue, such as reckless driving, and assess points and penalties based on that. And the AAMVA is working to expand the DLA internationally, not only to Canada and Mexico but to Europe, Australia, and Africa as well. In the future, when you're caught speeding to the airport in Namibia, you'll have a helluva time trying to renew your license in Pennsylvania. Finally, the DLA requires all member states to make all information available to member and non-member states, and that will include information like Social Security numbers.
Even in its (relatively) early stage, DLA may one day come into prominence in a greater part of the nation...if not the world. On the bright side it will mean an end to really bad drivers maintaining their privileges. But the long arm of the law -- and increasingly its keen eye -- will be watching even those who amass parking tickets, not just the moving violators. Perhaps Wez, from Mad Max: The Road Warrior, said it best: "You can run, but you can't hide."