Despite the high level of economic integration between US states, for some reason all of them insist on having their own rules for driver licensing and car registration. When moving to a different state you are usually required by law to exchange your driving license and re-register your car within 30 days. Some states care about this issue so much, they penalize out-of-state cars that are seen parking overnight too often.

Why not simplify the system and have the federal government issue all driving licenses, car registrations and license plates? The revenue from the system could then be shared by Washington on a pro-rata basis according to the latest population census.

  • 1
    I somehow doubt that these systems generate much revenue.
    – phoog
    Jul 23, 2018 at 3:16

3 Answers 3


I think it might come down to the fact that states get to decide for themselves on certain laws. Not to mention that the government probably doesn't have the time and energy to keep track of what the states have set up and in place already. From this website, the 10th Amendment which says:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

  • 1
    This is wrong for 2 reasons. Building of roads is not an enumerated power, but there are interstate highways. Driving on public roads can be as easily claimed to be part of the interstate commerce as making phone calls. And FCC's originating authority to regulate phone calls comes from the interstate commerce clause.
    – grovkin
    Jul 23, 2018 at 4:28
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    @grovkin Building roads has been construed, in part, as an enumerated power, Article 1, Section 8 Clause 7: Post Roads. While such a claim could be made, it hasn't. Jul 23, 2018 at 7:46
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    @grovkin The Interstate Highways are built and maintained by the states.
    – Deolater
    Jul 23, 2018 at 12:47
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    @grovkin: Note that the Interstate highway system is (or was when originated) formally the "National Interstate and Defense Highways". One of the stated purposes was to provide mobility for troops and supplies in case of an attack on the US. WRT being build & maintained by the states, there'd be little reason for e.g. Nevada or Utah to build an expensive 4 or more lane highway like I-80 across area of the state that are mostly desert.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 23, 2018 at 17:26
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    @Alen It is an expansive reading of the Interstate Commerce clause that has empowered the Federal government. Jul 23, 2018 at 20:36

Administration of licensing and registration of cars is not the only thing that states do with respect to cars.

All states also construct and maintain roads which are not part of the interstate highway system. They also administer and regulate driving restrictions on those roads. For example, the most obvious of those restrictions is speed limits. But there are others. As another example, localities and states have their own rules on where it is legal to turn right on red light and where it is not. The amount of percent alcohol which can be legally in someone's system also varies from state to state.

If the Federal Government were to administer licensing, it would have to accommodate all state's variations on different laws or it would have to mandate that such laws be uniform. The 1st would increase bureaucracy without gaining anything. The latter would force uniform rules on roads with very different driving conditions.

A more local approach allows states to ensure that drivers who most often drive on the roads of those states are familiar with the locally-tailored variations to driving regulations.

  • 1
    The Federal government does already mandate minimum standards for CDL drivers (commercial trucks). Interestingly, states have converged on similar licensing and registration standards, as well as sharing information via an organization outside the Federal government. Similarly, there are shared roadway standards, again outside the Feds.
    – user71659
    Jul 23, 2018 at 4:54
  • But constructing roads and setting the road rules is completely separate from licensing and car registration. Jul 23, 2018 at 5:42
  • @JonathanReez, a major part of getting a license is passing a "written test" which tests a person's knowledge of state's driving laws. Which effectively means that each state tests that majority of those driving on the roads of the state know state-specific driving laws.
    – grovkin
    Jul 23, 2018 at 6:09
  • @user71659, commercial trucks are justifiably different. They spend most of their driving on interstate highways.
    – grovkin
    Jul 23, 2018 at 6:10
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    @grovkin Except the laws are so similar, you rarely have to retake the written or driving tests when transferring licenses between states. It ends up being a paperwork exercise. And drivers licenses are valid when temporarily visiting other states.
    – user71659
    Jul 23, 2018 at 13:46

The US states have their own sovereignty for their internal affairs. But it’s changing with Real ID and other laws.

In some way each US State is close to being it's own nation. There is a US Constitution and each state has it's own constitution that spells out the rules for it's government. Each county, city and town in the state have their own charters for their local governments.

It works the same with laws where each state and locality has it's own laws and there are limits for what each higher level government can do at the lower level.

In some cases like NYC, the state has a lot of control over a lower government because of a past bankruptcy where the state had to take control. I've been told in NJ most counties and towns handle their own affairs and the state has very little power.

  • This answer is very short. It could be improved by elaborating on what's the constitutional source for state sovereignty and why it applies to drivers licenses.
    – Philipp
    Jul 23, 2018 at 10:07

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