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I live in New Hampshire where car insurance is not required so I don't have it. I just heard that it is illegal for me to drive in Texas because I don't have insurance and that if they stop me they can seize my car. Is this true?

I thought the Constitution said that states had to respect the laws of other states?

  • "I thought the Constitution said that states had to respect the laws of other states?" - given the variance of firearms and liquor laws across the US states, I'd say that that thought is easily proven wrong.... – user4210 Jul 13 '19 at 0:41
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    In what way is Texas failing to respect New Hampshire's laws? New Hampshire surely has no law that says "You can drive in Texas without insurance". – Nate Eldredge Jul 13 '19 at 0:58
  • @NateEldredge Ok, let's change it a little. Some states allow a full driver's license at 16 years, others at 18 years of age. Let's say a 16-year-old drives into an 18-year-old state. Can they then be arrested? If your answer is that the license is only good FOR THE STATE IN WHICH IT IS ISSUED, then by that logic, noone should be allowed to drive out of their own state because their license is not recognized in other states. Either the right to drive is recognized or it is not. – Cicero Jul 13 '19 at 1:19
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    "the right to drive" does not exist. The privilege of driving is subject to the law of the jurisdiction. If you don't meet the conditions, you aren't permitted to do it. Obviously states allow exceptions for other states' licenses, but only to the extent that license is compatible with their own law. – Nij Jul 13 '19 at 4:39
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    People are allowed to drive outside their own state because each state has made the decision that it is good policy to recognize licenses from other states, and legislated accordingly. But if, say, Kansas decided tomorrow to stop recognizing other licenses, and to require that everyone who drives in Kansas must hold a Kansas license, I'm not convinced that this would violate Full Faith and Credit. It would of course be stupid, and might lead to other states refusing to recognize Kansas licenses as retaliation, but I'm not sure that it would be unconstitutional. – Nate Eldredge Jul 13 '19 at 6:35
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As Mark's answer indicates, you are evidently thinking of the Full Faith and Credit Clause. "Public acts" being laws, it may seem at first glance that states must fully respect the laws of other states. But the interpretation of this clause by the courts is rather different, and has evolved a bit over time.

The short of the (modern) matter is that it mostly applies to matters concerning the judiciary. SCOTUS has recognized a "public policy exception" to the clause, which limits the ability of the clause to force a state to abide by laws which are in conflict with their own (for the most part: they don't have to). Driving privileges, and more generally who is licensed to do what (doctors, hunting, concealed carry, etc.), within a state falls under that public policy exception. So Texas does not have to obey New Hampshire's laws concerning the legal privilege to drive.

As a basic sanity test, if this were not the case, then why wouldn't everybody in Texas not simply bounce off to New Hampshire for a summer to get their license there and then return to Texas and never bother with insurance? It entirely undercuts the state's sovereignty and ability to set their own laws if any other state can so easily create loopholes around them.

Moreover, despite what the name might suggest, a "driver's license" is more a certification that you have the requisite skills, physical performance (passing an eye test), and knowledge to drive safely and in accordance with that state's traffic laws. It certainly makes sense for a state to require you to demonstrate at least that much, but they may also impose additional requirements. A requirement for insurance demonstrates your ability to handle financial liabilities that may reasonably result from your driving.

All states currently accept a valid out-of-state license in the above sense: that you are certified to have the requisite skills, that it is valid proof of age, etc. Though if you become a permanent resident there they may require you to take new tests. However to legally drive in any particular state you must not only have such certification (a driver's license) but also satisfy any other conditions, such as age requirements and insurance requirements.

As an aside, such state-by-state variations as to who is licensed to do what are in fact quite common, especially across history, even on very prominent issues. But even nationwide resolutions of those issues via SCOTUS have never, to my knowledge, utilized the Full Faith and Credit clause to do so. And, really, how could they? By saying since some state could force all other states to do X via the clause, then X must be a constitutional requirement? Or that any one state could unilaterally dictate laws in all other states? Madness!

For one example, anti-miscegenation laws, which outlawed (certain) interracial marriages, were quite common until 1967, when SCOTUS struck them all down using the 14th amendment. More recently, gay marriage was forced to be recognized in all states, also via the 14th amendment. In both cases, before those SCOTUS rulings, the courts had generally recognized that the Full Faith and Credit clause did not compel the state to recognize (out-of-state) marriages it did not want to recognize. These both fell under the public policy exception.

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  • All that said, it's technically possible that OP's concern is not even valid, as the specific statute in Texas requiring proof of insurance may have language that makes it only applicable to those out-of-state drivers whose state requires such insurance. Even if true, you might still be ticketed if pulled over, but if true you'd have grounds for challenging it. I believe there are states where this happens (Washington, namely), though I do not know if Texas is among them or what court precedents there are pertinent to Texas. – zibadawa timmy Jul 13 '19 at 12:07
  • As far as I can tell from this, Texas would not be among such states, and the requirement applies to out-of-state drivers as equally well as it does to permanent residents. – zibadawa timmy Jul 13 '19 at 12:14
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It sounds like you're referring to the "Full Faith and Credit clause" of the Constitution:

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

Nothing there about laws, and the clause has generally been interpreted exactly that way: as not applying to laws.

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    Well, (public) acts are laws, aren't they? – zibadawa timmy Jul 13 '19 at 6:14

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