As in years past, the new year has ushered in some new driving laws in states across the country. A common theme in new traffic laws is law enforcement cracking down on motorists’ use of electronic devices while driving. And some states are also adjusting license and license plate renewal requirements as a result of the pandemic. Here’s a look at some new state driving laws for 2021. 

New California Driving Laws in 2021

Starting January 1, 2021, any Californian who rescues an unattended child under the age of six from a vehicle will be exempt from civil or criminal liability. This applies to situations where the child is at risk of suffering from extreme heat or cold or any other danger. Road safety is also at the top of California’s new 2021 driving laws. “Move over, slow down” will now apply to local streets. And beginning July 1, 2021, a second hands-free violation for talking or texting while driving within 36 months of a first offense will be considered a subsequent offense

While you’re thinking about car safety, now could be a good time to make sure you’re financially protected on the road, too. Comparing car insurance quotes regularly can help you ensure you’re getting the best coverage at a good rate. And remember—all states (except New Hampshire) require drivers statewide to own car insurance policies! 

All U.S. States and Territories


We’ve been hearing about REAL ID for a few years now: the stricter requirements and verifications for state-issued IDs that will be necessary to board domestic flights. Beginning October 2020, states were required to issue REAL ID–compliant driver’s licenses, and October 2021 is when travelers will need a REAL ID for domestic flights. For example, if you live in Rhode Island and don’t see a gold star on your driver’s license or state ID, you’ll need to visit a local DMV to update your identification to be REAL ID compliant. 


Arizona has taken a tougher stance on multitasking drivers by passing a new distracted driving law. Beginning at the start of 2021, Arizona police officers can stop any driver who is seen holding an electronic device, even if their driving doesn’t seem to be affected. 

This hands-free law considers any kind of cell phone use while driving to be an infraction, including talking, texting, and social media. The only exemption in the law is if the device is in hands-free mode. It also targets watching or recording videos from your device while driving. 


Starting January 1, 2021, anyone who rescues an unattended child under the age of six from a vehicle will be exempt from civil or criminal liability. This applies to situations where the child is at risk of suffering from extreme heat or cold or any other danger. 

Road safety is also at the top of California’s changes this year. “Move over, slow down” will now apply to local streets. And beginning July 1, 2021, a second hands-free violation for talking or texting while driving within 36 months of a first offense will be considered a subsequent offense and will add a point to your driving record.


The coronavirus pandemic has made it a little harder for some people to renew their driver’s licenses. Because of this, Hawaii has extended the expiration dates of driver’s licenses and state IDs that were set to expire between March 16, 2020, and February 2021 to expire on February 14, 2021. This should buy drivers a little extra time since renewals are available on an appointment-only basis. 


Idaho is another state that’s cracking down on the use of electronic devices. Starting January 1, 2021, drivers are required to put their devices away while on the road—even while stopped at a red light or stop sign. 


Starting March 1, 2021, speeding in a speed camera zone will cost you. Speeding 6–10 miles per hour over the limit will result in a $35 fine, while going more than 11 miles over will earn you a $100 ticket.


Like Hawaii, Kansas knows it’s been hard to get to the Department of Motor Vehicles for license renewals. While it was already possible to do an online renewal in 2020, the state is extending the deadline to renew expired licenses and state IDs to June 30, 2021. 


The driver’s license test in Louisiana is getting an update in 2021. Now, all driver education courses and the driver’s license test will include information specifically about parking. 

The state has also introduced tort reform legislation to reduce the amount of money people can receive from insurance companies and businesses following a car accident. The reform will increase the number of jury trials for personal injury lawsuits, impose caps on medical expenses, and change the types of evidence that can be used during a trial.


With the Bureau of Motor Vehicles reopening at full capacity, Maine is requiring that all expired licenses and IDs be renewed. The order, which went into effect on January 1, 2021, ended the previous extension put in place at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Drivers in Prince George’s County won’t be able to retrieve their cars from impound until they pay any outstanding parking or traffic tickets unless a hearing determines there was no probable cause to impound. If the driver waives the hearing, they will have to pay all outstanding tickets. However, if a hearing determines that there was no probable cause to impound the vehicle, then the new law does not apply. 

New Jersey

New Jersey will be rolling out changes that will expand access to driver’s licenses in state to undocumented immigrants. After delays in training attributed to the pandemic, the change is expected to go into effect by May 1, 2021. 

New York

Drivers in New York State will get off a little easier if they don’t pay a traffic ticket. As of January 1, 2021, New York State will no longer suspend licenses for unpaid traffic fines and fees. 

New Yorkers will also save money on most tolls in the state. With the exception of the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, New York EZPass rates were frozen as of January 1. Out-of-state drivers (many Connecticut and Massachusetts residents commute into the state) with EZPass will pay 15 percent more on tolls and 30 percent more if they choose to pay by mail instead.


Oregon has changed its drivers license application requirements. As of January 1, 2021, drivers in Oregon will no longer need to provide proof of legal presence in the U.S. to get an Oregon driver’s license or ID card. However, the rest of the requirements still apply: proof of name, identity, and state residency are still required for the standard license and state ID cards. 


The Move Over law in Pennsylvania is getting an update starting April 27, 2021. Under the new law, drivers must slow to 20 miles per hour under the posted speed limit if they can’t move into another lane when passing an emergency response area. 

New Driving Laws in 2021: FAQ

What is a REAL ID, and when will I need it?

The Department of Homeland Security has created new guidelines for secure ID standards. Basically, more information is required to get a state-issued ID or driver’s license than in the past. Beginning October 1, 2021, a REAL ID will be required to board domestic flights or enter federal buildings.

What are the new driving laws for distracted driving?

Several states imposed new driving laws to crack down on distracted driving. In general, law enforcement will be able to stop anyone using a handheld device while driving. The penalties and specifics vary by state, but it’s safe to assume that hands-free is the new standard. Plus, it’s much safer for you.

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