Driving and Transportation
Explore potential transit options, including driving and using public transit.
Driving in the U.S. requires an understanding of rules of the road, insurance requirements, licenses and more.
Driver's License and Other ID Cards
In the State of Illinois, there are three different forms of license/IDs:
- A Driver's License is used for driving and identification (banking, traveling, etc.) and is only available to those with an SSN.
See example image:
- An Illinois State Identification Card is used for identification only (when banking, traveling, etc.) and is only available to those with an SSN. A state ID card does NOT license you to drive.
- A Temporary Visitor Driver's License (TVDL) is used for driving ONLY and is available to non-citizens of the United States who have been granted temporary, legal entry into this country and are temporarily residing in the State of Illinois and ineligible for a Social Security number.
See example TVDL :
The Illinois Secretary of State website explains the application requirements and steps for an Illinois Driver’s License, State ID Card, and Temporary Visitor Driver’s License.
The Acceptable Identification Document Chart lists documents that may be used as forms of identification to provide proof of legal name, date of birth, Lawful status, Social Security number and IL residency when applying for an Illinois driver’s license or ID Card.
Temporary Visitor's Driver's License (TVDL)
Temporary Visitor Driver's License:
To apply for an Illinois Driver’s License or Non-Driver’s Identification Card (State ID), the Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) asks you to provide either an SSN, or documentation that you are not eligible for a SSN.
- If you are NOT eligible for a SSN (needed to apply for an IL Driver's Licence), you may apply for a Temporary Visitor Driver’s License (TVDL).
- If you have been issued an SSN, you are eligible to apply for a driver's license.
- The IL Secretary of State Document Requirements to obtain a Driver's License is a helpful resource. Please note that "Group C - Social Security Acceptable Identification Documents" indicates:
An applicant applying for a Temporary Visitor Driver’s License (TVDL) is not required to present documents from Group C. Instead, the applicant must sign a declaration on the TVDL application that the applicant is, at the time of application, ineligible to obtain a Social Security number.
Please note that TVDL applications are accepted only at certain DMV facilities in IL. Please consult the Illinois Secretary of State TVDL Program publication for detailed instructions as well as IL DMV (Department of Motor Vehicle) office locations which will accept TVDL applications.
Driving in the United States and Illinois Rules of the Road
Please reference the Illinois Rules of the Road handbook published by the Illinois Secretary of State DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to learn about:
- Traffic laws
- Roadway signs
- Driver’s license application process, requirements and exams
- Laws and responsibilities related to owning a vehicle in the state of Illinois
- Safe driving tips
- Procedures and laws related to traffic violations and crashes
Preparing for the DMV driving test in Illinois
ePermitTest offers free DMV practice tests and are presented in both English and Spanish. Please note that ePermitTest is NOT affiliated with Northwestern University; we are sharing it as a resources to help our international community prepare for driving in Illinois and taking the required driving tests.
Illinois Law on Required Auto Insurance
Illinois law requires all motor vehicles registered and operated in Illinois to be covered by liability insurance, which covers property damage and/or injuries you may cause others in an accident. (Trailers are not required to have liability insurance.) The following liability insurance minimum amounts are required for compliance with the law:
- $25,000 for injury or death of one person in an accident.
- $50,000 for injury or death of more than one person in an accident.
- $20,000 for damage to property of another person.
You must carry your insurance card in your vehicle and show it upon request by any law enforcement officer. Your insurance company should send you an insurance card, usually when your policy is issued or renewed. For more information, see the Illinois Secretary of State Mandatory Vehicle Insurance brochure.
Types of Auto Insurance Coverage
According to Illinois law, the owner of a car must maintain insurance coverage. The minimum insurance coverage required by law is called liability. Liability coverage pays, up to certain limits, the sum for which you become legally responsible if you injure someone or damage their car. The following other types of coverage are optional:
- Uninsured motorist: Protects you and your passengers if you are injured by an uninsured or hit-and-run driver, but only if the other driver is legally liable because of negligent driving. (Note that some insurance companies automatically include this coverage in their policies.)
- Collision: Pays for your losses if your car is damaged in a collision or single car accident. This coverage is valuable if the collision cannot be proven to be someone else's fault.
- Comprehensive: Pays for your loss if your car is stolen or damaged by fire, hail, vandalism, or most other non-collision causes.
Insurance Agents, Brokers and Companies
Auto insurance in the Chicago area is often expensive. Some companies offer the possibility of a "good student" discount with their policies for students with certain GPAs. An insurance agent works exclusively for one insurance company. A broker or independent insurance agent works with many different insurance companies and policies and can compare different rates for you.
Before you purchase insurance, make sure the agent/broker and insurer you select is licensed by the Illinois Department of Insurance (IDOI).
The IDOI Consumer Auto Insurance page has many helpful resources including:
- Auto insurance definitions
- Auto insurance shopping guide
- Steps for filing a claim with your insurance company.
If you Have an Automobile Accident
Chapter 7 of the Illinois Rules of the Road handbook explains what to do if you are involved in or come upon a traffic accident. Be familiar with the procedures and keep this information in your car along with the car's registration and insurance paperwork.
If you are involved in an accident, you will need to present your driver’s license, car registration and valid auto insurance card. Failure to follow correct procedures after an accident may result in fines or legal action. An insurance claim occurs when there is an accident and charges are made against the insurance policy. A claims adjuster from the insurance company reviews the facts of the accident and authorizes payment of a claim against an insurance policy; they should notify you what the insurance company will cover and what part of the bill (if any) you may be responsible to cover.
What To Do During a Traffic Stop or when you Hear a Police Siren
When you see police lights or hear a siren, pull your car over to the nearest safe area to stop as soon as possible. Carefully review chapter 4 “Traffic Laws” of the Illinois Rules of the Road handbook to familiarize yourself with proper action when stopped by law enforcement.
Vehicle Registration and License Plates
The State of Illinois requires residents to register their motor vehicles through the Illinois Secretary of State’s (SOS) office to legally drive on public roadways. If you purchased your car from a dealer, they will take care of sending the documents to the SOS office. If you bought your vehicle from a private seller, you must register the vehicle in person.
Front and rear license plates are required on most vehicle types, with the exception of motorcycles, motor-driven cycles, and trailers. License plates are purchase by and belong to the vehicle owner, so they can be transferred from one vehicle to another.
See the Illinois Secretary of State Vehicle Services page for more information on vehicle title & registration and license plates.
Parking on Northwestern’s Campus
Permits are required for all Evanston campus lots from 8:00 am to 4:00pm Monday through Friday unless otherwise posted. Remember that you need a permit even during quarterly breaks. You can purchase a parking permit through Evanston Campus Parking Services.
For information about obtaining a permit on Northwestern's Chicago campus, visit the University Services Parking Office.
Public Train/Bus Transportation
The Evanston/Chicago area offers both train and bus public transportation options. See the NU Off-Campus life page on Public Train/Bus Transportation for useful links and routes.