Variance in Regulatory Laws by US State

State Similarity Index - Political Category - Regulatory Laws

The State Similarity Index attempts to quantify how similar states are to each other relative to other states. The index is a statistically-based way to measure this. 20% of the index is based on politics. 10% of a state’s political score (2% of the overall State Similarity Index score) takes into consideration the state’s regulatory laws, including traffic, gun, voting, and education laws.

(Please note that laws can change quickly, so it is best to consult legal professionals or government authorities for the most current and accurate information)

Traffic Laws

Speed limits vary considerably among states. The national maximum speed limit was once 55 mph, but this was repealed in 1995. In parts of Texas, some highways have limits reaching 85 mph. The maximum is 70 mph or less in most states. Hawaii has the lowest maximum speed limit at 60 mph.

Most states have implemented laws prohibiting texting while driving. Some states have strict handheld device bans, prohibiting any use of electronic devices while driving, while others may only ban texting or certain types of phone use. Texas, Arizona, Missouri, and Montana are the only states that have not banned it.

Seat belt laws are another area where state laws differ. Some have primary enforcement laws, allowing police officers to pull over a driver solely for not wearing a seat belt. Others only allow a driver to be cited for not wearing a seat belt if they are pulled over for another violation. New Hampshire is the only state that does not mandate wearing a seat belt.

The minimum driving age also differs from state to state. South Dakota has the lowest minimum age at 14 years old. In the vast majority of states, the minimum age for obtaining a learner’s permit is 16 years old and the age at which a driver can obtain a full, unrestricted license varies. New Jersey has the highest minimum age at 17 years old.

Wikipedia – state speed limits
Bureau of Transportation – distracted driving regulations
Wikipedia – seat belt laws – minimum driving age

States were classified by their specific laws:
State speed limits – under 70 mph, 70 mph, over 70 mph
Distracted driving laws – No Ban, Texting Ban, Texting & Hand-Held Ban
Seat belt laws – Primary enforcement, Secondary enforcement, None
Minimum driving age – under 16, 16, over 16

Gun Laws

In the United States, each state has established its own regulations regarding firearms. Some states mandate that individuals obtain a permit to purchase a firearm. A few states require firearm owners to register their weapons as well. Another difference is that some states enforce mandatory background checks for all firearm sales. Some states also prohibit the open carry of firearms in public. Moreover, a few states enact stringent bans on assault weapons to mitigate the potential for mass shootings and gun-related violence.

In general, states with a high percentage of Republicans and conservative voters have much looser restrictions on gun laws than states with a high percentage of Democrats and liberal voters. Many states do not enforce any of these laws. On the other hand, New York has arguably the strictest firearm laws in the entire country. New York City has faced significant challenges related to violence and crime, so their politicians aim to reduce the risk of gun-related incidents.


States were classified by whether they have the following gun policies:
Permit required
Registration required
Background check required
Open carry ban
Assault weapons ban

Voting Laws

Primary elections play a pivotal role in determining party nominees for various political offices. States exhibit significant diversity in their primary systems, including open primaries, closed primaries, and semi-closed primaries. In open primaries, any registered voter, regardless of party affiliation, can participate in either party’s primary. Closed primaries restrict participation to registered party members, while semi-closed primaries allow unaffiliated voters to choose a party’s primary.

Voter ID laws are a prime example of how states differ in their approach to ensuring the integrity of elections. They range from strict photo ID requirements in some states, such as Texas and Georgia, to more lenient regulations in others, like California and Illinois, where non-photo alternatives are accepted. In general, Democrats argue that strict photo ID laws disproportionately affect marginalized communities and hinder voter participation, so liberal states tend to have less strict laws.

In most states, incarcerated individuals cannot vote. Two states, Vermont and Maine, allow inmates to vote even while in prison. Several states follow a hybrid approach, restoring voting rights after completion of sentences or parole. Many states (mostly in the Southern region) do not even restore voting rights to their prisoners once they get out. This practice has been criticized for disproportionately affecting Black communities and contributing to a broader pattern of voter suppression.

LGBT map – Voting rights for the incarcerated
Ballotpedia – Primary election types
Ballotpedia – Voter ID laws

States were classified by their current voting laws:
Primary election types – Closed, Partially Closed, Partially Open, Open, Jungle
Voter ID laws – Strict Photo, Strict Non-Photo, Non-Strict Non-Photo, No ID needed
Voting rights for the incarcerated – Rights not Lost, Restored upon release, Restored after sentence and parole, Not Restored

Education Laws

The manner in which students are enrolled in schools varies significantly from state to state. Residency requirements differ. Some states mandate enrollment based on geographic boundaries, while others permit open enrollment, enabling parents to choose schools outside their immediate locality. Most states do not allow open enrollment, however Utah, Delaware, Colorado, Florida, and Arizona do.

Corporal punishment is still technically legal in many states, especially in the Southern region. While some states have banned the practice entirely, others still permit educators to employ physical discipline as a means of behavior management. This divergence reflects a broader debate about the efficacy and ethics of such practices, with proponents arguing for its deterrent effect and opponents emphasizing the potential harm it inflicts on students.

There are many disparities in the homeschooling regulations from state to state. These laws encompass requirements for curriculum standards, teacher qualifications, testing, and reporting. Some states impose rigorous oversight to ensure educational quality, while others adopt a more hands-off approach, granting parents substantial freedom in designing and delivering instruction.

Reason Foundation – Enrollment Laws
Wikipedia – Corporal Punishment
Home School Legal Defense Association – Homeschooling Regulations

States were classified by following laws:
Mandatory Enrollment Laws – Cross District, Within District
Corporal Punishment Laws – Allowed, Not Allowed
Homeschooling Regulations – High, Medium, Low

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