Is it Legal to Drive Someone Else’s Car in the US?

Driving a vehicle is a responsibility that entails understanding the laws, rules, and regulations associated with the road. One common question that arises is whether it’s permissible to drive a car owned by someone else. 

This question has multiple layers, and the answer is not straightforward, primarily because traffic and vehicle regulations in the US vary from state to state. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown:

1. Insurance Considerations

The primary factor to consider when driving another person’s car is insurance. In the US, car insurance typically follows the vehicle, not the driver. 

This means that if you have an accident while driving someone else’s car, their insurance will typically be the primary source for claims, assuming they have insurance coverage.

However, there are some nuances:

  • Permissive Use: Many car insurance policies contain “permissive use” clauses, allowing occasional drivers not listed on the policy to be covered. This means that if the car owner has given you permission, their insurance may cover damages in case of an accident. Always verify with the car owner about their insurance details.

  • Secondary Insurance: If the vehicle owner’s insurance doesn’t cover the damage or if the coverage limit is exceeded, the driver’s insurance (if they have one) may serve as secondary insurance. It can help cover the remaining costs.

  • Exclusions: Some insurance policies may specifically exclude certain drivers or types of drivers (e.g., those under a certain age or without a valid license). If you fall under an exclusion and drive the car, there might not be any insurance coverage in case of an accident.

2. State Regulations

Different states might have specific regulations about driving someone else’s vehicle. It’s essential to familiarize yourself with these if you plan on driving a car that’s not yours, especially if crossing state lines.

3. Owner’s Permission

Legally, you must have the car owner’s explicit permission to drive their vehicle. If you don’t have permission and take their car, it could be considered unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, or in some cases, auto theft, both of which carry severe penalties.

4. Driver’s Licensing

It goes without saying, but you need a valid driver’s license to operate a vehicle in the US. If you’re driving someone else’s car, ensure your license is valid, not only in the state where you got it but also in the state you’re driving.

For international visitors, a foreign license might be valid for short-term use, but many states require an International Driving Permit alongside the home country’s license.

5. Vehicle Registration and Inspection

While these don’t directly relate to who is driving, it’s good practice to ensure the vehicle is currently registered and has passed any necessary state inspections. You, as the driver, can be penalized if you’re pulled over and the vehicle doesn’t meet state requirements.

6. Rental and Lease Agreements

If the vehicle is rented or leased, there might be strict stipulations about who can drive the car. Many rental agreements require additional drivers to be listed and might charge extra for that privilege. Unauthorized drivers can void any insurance provided through the rental agreement.


While it’s generally legal to drive someone else’s car in the US with their permission, there are several considerations to keep in mind. 

The most important is ensuring proper insurance coverage followed by adherence to any state-specific regulations. Always prioritize safety and legality when behind the wheel, no matter whose vehicle you’re driving.