Most states, including California, are members of the Interstate Driver’s License Compact (DLC), which is administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The DLC is an agreement between member states to share information about driver violations, including DUI/DWI driving convictions. Pursuant to the DLC, member states are required to report driving convictions to the state in which the driver holds a driver’s license.

Let’s say you are on vacation in Arizona, you go out for a night on the town and get stopped and arrested and eventually convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). Or let’s say you used to live in Texas but now live in California. Four years ago, you were convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Texas. In both of these cases and in almost any case where a California driver has an out-of-state DUI/DWI conviction on his or her record, it will be treated as a DUI on the California driver’s record as if the DUI conviction occurred in California.

In the case of our hypothetical California driver convicted of DUI in Arizona, the statute mandates the suspension or revocation (depending on prior DUI convictions) of the driver’s California license to drive, just as if the conviction occurred in California. In the case of the Texas driver who moved to California, the DWI conviction will remain on the driver’s California record just as if the driver had been convicted four years ago of a DUI in California . In both cases, the out-of-state DUI/DWI conviction will appear on the California driver’s record and will count as a prior DUI under California law.

In California, the out-of-state DUI/DWI conviction must pass the “equivalency test” meaning that the out-of-state conviction would be a DUI violation in the State of California. For all practical purposes, this is almost always true since California has some of the toughest DUI laws in the country. The equivalency test requires that the out-of-state offense or violation be of a “substantially similar nature” as the equivalent law in California. (VC 15023(c).) While this may appear to provide a “legal loophole,” recent years have seen the California Appellate Courts find in favor of prosecution (or DMV) in almost every case tested under this standard.

If you are visiting another state and are arrested for DUI/DWI, the initial arrest will proceed under that state’s laws. . If the state is a member of the DLC, which almost all states are, the arrest will be immediately reported to the California DMV. Most DUI/DWI laws are fairly consistent across states and it is probable that your driving privileges will be immediately suspended in the state where you are arrested as well as in California.

Defending an out-of-state DUI/DWI arrest can be quite complicated because the driver will be required to defend the charge in the state where he or she was arrested, even though the charge and potential consequences will affect the driver’s privilege to drive in California. Usually when a driver is convicted in another state, the driver will be allowed to serve the term of probation in California and attend DUI education classes in California.