I am a US citizen and rent a lot. Sometimes, owing to some reasons, I forget to take my driver's license with me.

Do you need the actual driver's license to drive in the US? I know my license number, expiration and SSN by memory. What happens if I get pulled over but I don't actually have my license card on me?

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    Legality aside, don't car rental places ask to see your license? – cpast May 17 '15 at 1:29
  • @cpast the guy rented a car with his license, then went to his place.. then later went out again but this time he forgot the license. I guess This is the scenario the OP have in mind. – Nean Der Thal May 17 '15 at 6:56

This is a matter of state law, so the answer will vary by state; there is not a single answer for "the US". This article describes some of the possibilities and links to the relevant state laws.

For example, in my home state of Colorado, CRS 42-2-101 (2) states that you may not drive unless you have your driver's license in your "immediate possession". However, subsection (6) provides that if you are charged with a violation of this law, and you appear in court with your license, the charge will be dismissed. But it is not sufficient to just be able to tell a police officer your license number or other identifying information - by law, you would still get a ticket, and have to go to court to clear it.

As you mentioned renting: Many (if not all) rental companies will refuse to rent to you if you cannot produce your physical driver's license. This is likely to be true as a matter of company policy, regardless of whether the relevant state law would allow you to drive without the license.

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Depending in the state, the connectivity of the computer in the trooper's car, and the mood and/or ticket quota status of the trooper, you might be ok just by knowing your details. I left my wallet at home once, in my area drivers have 72 hours to produce so I went home, then to the police station and produced it. The desk officer called the issuing officer who said just make a copy of the license and he will cancel the ticket when he gets back. I heard all this over the open radio. "Cancel" in my jurisdiction means it never existed.

In my particular case it was quite beneficial to not have my license as the guy completely forgot to write up the rolling stop that he initially pulled me over for.

However, in your example you will be far away from home, so you can't just go and get it.

Also, there's no car rental company on the continent that will give you the keys without also seeing an original, valid license and supporting documentation from a Vienna Convention country, so whatever the local police think isn't relevant. As you will not have a car you will not be stopped for any traffic violations.

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  • I think cops can check details over the radio, so I'm not sure connectivity of the computer matters that much. – cpast May 17 '15 at 4:34
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    Also, strictly speaking I think you meant Geneva Convention or Inter-American Convention country, since those are what allow foreign drivers to operate in the US (the US and Canada are not actually party to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic). – cpast May 17 '15 at 4:43
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    Cops can check over the radio, but it takes a lot more effort. If he can check your details easily, he probably will. If dispatch is busy, you will simply get a ticket for failing to produce. It is NOT their job to look up your details just because you forgot the card. – paul May 17 '15 at 8:36
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    This is the exception, not the rule. If you don't have your license when pulled over, you should expect a ticket. – Esoteric Screen Name May 17 '15 at 10:37
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    @jwenting By what law, in what state? The very answer you're commenting on says that the law (in some unstated place) says you must either have your license with you or show it at a police station within 72hrs. – David Richerby May 17 '15 at 11:19

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