Driving without a license is illegal in every state. Still, most states differentiate between lacking a valid driver's license and lacking proof of your license.
Police officers likely won't arrest you for forgetting your wallet before getting behind the wheel. However, it's a much more serious offense to drive knowing that your license is suspended or invalid.
The penalties for driving without a license depend on your state and situation. Your driving record, vehicle impoundment, or even jail time could be at stake.
Types of Driver Licensing Violations
A motorist could violate a driver's license requirement in several ways. It might have been an honest mistake. Or, they drove despite knowing they had a driving restriction.
The most common types of driver's licenses violations include:
- Driving with an out-of-state driver's license after the new-resident application period
- Driving with an expired license
- Driving with a temporarily suspended license
- Driving with a permanently revoked license
- Failing to show proof of a valid license when driving or operating a vehicle
Police officers often notice license problems at a traffic stop. They will ask to see your license and registration if they pull you over for a different violation, like speeding or reckless driving. If you don't have your license, you may want to say as little as possible until you can speak to a criminal defense lawyer.
Penalties for Driving Without a License
Failure to produce a valid driver's license can lead to different penalties depending on the circumstances. Charges typically fall into two categories: correctable offenses and willful violations.
It's easy to forget your driver's license card when you're busy running the kids to school or returning home after a night out. Driving without a license is illegal, but there is leeway for one-off mistakes. This situation is a correctable offense.
You might receive a citation or warning for forgetting your license. Police may give you a fix-it ticket, which is typical for a minor mechanical violation like a broken headlight. A fix-it ticket gives you a chance to solve the problem after the traffic stop to lower the penalties.
You have a responsibility to prove you have a valid driver's license in traffic court after getting a ticket. The judge may then dismiss your citation. However, you may face fines or other penalties if you don't show proof in court.
A willful violation means you broke the traffic law on purpose. Here are some situational examples of willful violations:
- Driving to a friend's house when you only have a restricted license for work
- Letting an unlicensed driver borrow your car
- Driving without a license because nobody else could give you a ride
States take away driving privileges when they believe a driver is too dangerous to be on the road. A serious traffic violation like driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) can demonstrate risky driving. You can't decide when to drive again without the state's permission.
Willful violations carry heavier consequences than most other traffic offenses. You might face an arrest and misdemeanor criminal charges.
Sometimes, drivers believe they have a legitimate reason to bend the rules, but judges often disagree. Because the stakes are high, it's a good idea to get the best defense possible.
What Is the Penalty if I Get Pulled Over?
The penalty for driving without a license varies from state to state. Each state enforces specific penalties for drivers who operate motor vehicles without licenses.
Driving without a license is a misdemeanor criminal offense in most states. A conviction would show up on your criminal record.
Fines for driving without a license charges can increase based on how many prior violations you have. First-time offenders ordinarily receive lower fines. Drivers with multiple offenses might have to pay higher amounts. You may also expect more expensive insurance costs.
State Law Penalty Examples
The following examples show how the penalties can vary from state to state:
- Washington: You may receive a jail sentence if a judge determines you're a habitual offender for a second offense.
- Illinois: You may face a two-month license suspension for the first offense of driving without your license. You could face up to one year in jail for driving with a suspended driver's license.
- California: Law enforcement may impound your car for 30 days. You or your attorney must appear in court if the offense accompanies a DUI or another charge. Forgetting your license while driving is a traffic infraction.
- New York: You can face a $40 to $300 fine for an expired license. Breaking multiple suspensions or a DUI-related suspension could lead to a first or second-degree misdemeanor charge of Aggravated Unlicensed Operation or a felony charge.
You can defend against a license violation ticket in traffic court. A fix-it ticket is usually simple to resolve, but you may want legal advice if your situation is more complex. A criminal defense attorney can guide you through the process.
Get Professional Legal Help with Your Traffic Ticket
While you need to carry a valid driver's license every time you get behind the wheel, mistakes happen. There may be times when you forget to grab your wallet or otherwise lack a valid license. Every situation is a little different.
Most minor infractions are simple, but some cases can risk license suspension, jail time, or other penalties. You may want to speak with a traffic ticket attorney who can help defend you against the charges.