License Renewal by State

Getting a driver’s license is an exciting time. Young drivers spend a ton of time preparing, practicing, and studying for the exams, so that when the time comes they’re prepared for the challenge. After a while, though, that excitement wears off, and all that’s left in its wake is a driver’s license and a bunch of friends that need rides across town.

New drivers usually face the process of getting a graduated license, through which they are able to drive in progressively less restrictive situations until the age of 18, when they’re considered fully functioning driving adults. After that, the next big milestone for driver’s licenses is the renewal, where states require that drivers apply for and receive a new license - sometimes with a new photo - to replace their old one. The process varies from state to state, so it’s important to understand the basics. We’ll cover those points here, and will show you where you find out your state’s requirements for a license renewal.

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The Basics

The truth is that, depending on where you live, your license renewals could be due in as few as four years or as many as 12 years, though the intervals change as drivers age. The requirements to get a license renewal also vary by state, and by age group in some cases. In general, states break down the requirements along the lines of age.

Rather than add a miles-long list of states and their individual requirements here, we’ll link to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), you know, the people who crash test cars and tell you whether or not they’re safe. Their analysis of the state-level license renewal requirements shows that many shift their requirements when drivers hit a certain age, using the term “older populations.” When, exactly, drivers start being considered part of the older population is different from state to state. Some key takeaways from the list:

  • When to renew licenses, in some places, is up to the drivers themselves. They can opt for either four or eight years in places like Mississippi and Idaho.
  • In other places, the license renewal interval is limited by age. Montana, for example, runs an eight-year renewal period, but notes that the driver’s 75th birthday will supersede that time period, if it falls before the original renewal due date.
  • If you live in a place like Nevada, your license renewal dates will depend on your year of birth, though the state has worked to standardize the times in recent years. Odd years are due every four years, even years are due every eight, and since 2018, the whole state has moved to eight years.

What Will I Need To Renew My License?

Though the timelines to get licenses renewed varies by state, there’s at least some consistency in what you’ll need to bring with you to the local department of motor vehicles. In general, for an in-person renewal at the office, you’ll need to bring proof of identification, proof of your residency in that state, and proof of legal status (proof of citizenship).

The list of items you should bring starts to change a bit if you’ve recently been diagnosed with a medical condition, or if your eyesight and hearing have changed since the last time you were given a license. Some states require a statement from your physician or that you take a physical prior to being passed for a new license, so be sure to build that time and effort into your schedule if you feel that you might be a candidate for additional screening questions.

Will I Have To Retake A Driving Exam?

Not necessarily, and you might not even have to retake a driving exam as you age. Some states, such as California, reserve the right to retest at any time, especially as a response to a request from law enforcement or a family member. In other words, you might not have to take a test, but be prepared to answer questions if your family, doctor, or local constabulary determine that you’re a risk to yourself and others.

Even if your state doesn’t haul you back in for a driving test, there’s a good chance that you’ll have to take an eye exam or physical. States like Florida require an eye exam for drivers over the age of 80, and places like the District of Columbia require a doctor’s note for drivers over the age of 70 that states they are medically fit to drive a car.

How Much Will A License Renewal Cost?

Just like the age and time limits for license renewals, costs to have a license renewed will vary greatly from place to place. The process can cost as little as $10 in places like Missouri or as much as $90 in states like Washington. Some states have different costs associated with a renewal than they do with obtaining a license in the first place. If you find that your state’s licensing process is too expensive for you, there may be options for help with the costs, but you’ll have to check with your local DMV for the details.

What Happens If I Don’t Renew?

If you’re too busy, too cheap, or too lazy to get a license renewal, but continue driving without completing the process, you’ll be looking at the potential for fines and might even lose the right to obtain a driver’s license for a while. The fines are different place to place, but states like Maine require a fine of up to $250. It’s important to note that the penalty for driving on an expired license is different than the one for driving with a license that was suspended, canceled, or revoked. It’s also important to know that the penalty for getting caught without a license is worse if you’re caught more than once.

License Requirements by State

StateLearner PermitRestricted LicenseFull LicenseValidity of Full License

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Can I Renew My License Online?

Every state is different, but some allow renewals online. Keep in mind that you may be required to go in anyway to have a new photo taken, so be sure you understand what you need ahead of time.

What Is Real ID And Why Do I Keep Hearing About It?

Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses have special markings that make them much harder to duplicate. The United States has begun the process of requiring Real IDs -- specifically when your driver’s license is used as your ID to board an aircraft. so you’ll need to get one on or before the deadline, which is currently set at October 1, 2021.

Several states, such as Massachusetts, allowed those whose licenses expired during the COVID lockdown to renew their regular license with the normal fee, and then get a free Real ID at a later date, so check with your state to see what the requirements are.

How Much Does Renewal Cost?

The numbers differ everywhere, but you can rest assured that you’re going to pay for the license renewal, one way or the other.

Can I Renew Early?

Most places will allow you to renew up to six months earlier than the required date. Just like everything else in this post, though, the dates and time allowances differ from state to state.

Editor's note and disclaimer: Car Talk is supported by our fans, readers and listeners. When you click on some of the links on our website, we may receive referral compensation. However, you should know that the recommendations we make are based on our independent editorial review and analyses.
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