Driving without a license is illegal in every state, but most states differentiate between operating a vehicle without a valid driver's license and driving a vehicle without proof of a driver's license (such as when a driver fails to physically carry their valid driver's license). While you won't be arrested for simply failing to grab your wallet before getting behind the wheel, it's a much more serious offense to drive with the knowledge that your license is suspended or otherwise invalid.
Penalties for driving without a license or failing to produce a license when stopped by a police officer range from "fix-it tickets" to vehicle impoundment or even jail time (for driving on a revoked license, for example).
Types of Driver Licensing Violations
A motorist may violate a driver's license requirement in a number of ways. Perhaps it was an honest mistake (for example, Jake left his driver's license at home) or maybe there was an attempt to circumvent a known driving restriction (for example, Jake willingly drove despite knowing that his license was suspended for DUI.)
Here are the most common types of violations related to driver's licenses:
- Failing to apply for a state-issued drivers license within the time allowed.
- Driving with an expired license.
- Driving with a license that has been temporarily suspended.
- Driving with a license that has been permanently revoked.
- Failing to show proof of a valid license when driving or operating a vehicle.
Penalties for Driving Without a License
Failure to produce a valid driver's license when asked by a police officer can lead to a number of penalties depending on the circumstances. Charges typically fall into one of two categories: correctable offenses and willful violations.
Simply forgetting to carry your driver's license while driving a vehicle may lead to a "fix-it ticket," where you must later show proof that you fixed the violation in order to have the citation dismissed by the traffic court. Failure to present this evidence typically leads to fines or other penalties.
Penalties for willful violations of licensing requirements, such as driving on a suspended or revoked license, are much more serious. Driver's licenses are frequently suspended for DUI offenses, since states have an interest in keeping dangerous drivers off the roads. Therefore, when a driver willfully drives with a suspended or revoked driver's license, they may be cited, arrested, and charged with a misdemeanor offense.
Driving Without a License: Examples of State Laws
The following examples illustrate the range of penalties for operating a vehicle without a valid driver's license from state to state:
- Washington: You may receive a jail sentence if a judge determines that you're a habitual offender.
- Illinois: Two-month suspension for the first offense of driving without a valid license; possible jail sentence of up to one year for driving with a suspended driver's license.
- California: Your car may be impounded for 30 days; you must appear in court (or have an attorney appear on your behalf) if the offense accompanies a DUI or other charge; simply forgetting to have your license while driving is an infraction.
- New York: $40 to $300 fine for an expired license; misdemeanor charge of "Aggravated Unlicensed Operation" (2nd or 1st degree) for multiple suspensions or DUI-related suspensions, with possible felony charge (which can carry a jail sentence).
In Trouble for Driving Without a License? Get Legal Help
Most traffic tickets involve infractions and can be handled without the help of a legal professional, often through the mail. But if you're facing license suspension, license revocation, or jail time, you may wish to speak with a local traffic ticket lawyer who can help defend you against the charges.