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Consequences of Driving Without a License

UPDATED: July 17, 2020

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What you need to know:

  • What are the consequences of driving without your license?
  • Driving without your license on you is illegal, but typically will result in a traffic citation.
  • Driving without a valid license is usually a misdemeanor, whether your license is expired or you never got one.
  • Driving With a suspended or revoked license may be a felony, especially if your license was taken away for drunk driving or reckless driving charges.

To lawfully operate a motor vehicle in the United States, you need to have a valid driver's license. Operating a vehicle without a valid driver's license is a violation of criminal law and can result in severe consequences. The penalties vary widely but follow a similar theme: driving without a license is a serious offense that goes beyond a moving violation. Penalties generally involve fines, jail time, or both.

If you've been cited for driving without a valid driver's license, you may wish to speak with a local criminal defense lawyer who can advise you of your options and defend against any charges against you. Put your ZIP code in the box above to find a criminal law attorney near you.

Consequences of Driving Without a License: Penalties

Data related to fees and penalties provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

State Fees First Penalties Subsequent Penalties
Alabama Misdemeanor: $100-$500 Possible imprisonment for no more than 180 days and immediate vehicle impoundment. Possible license suspension increase by 6 months.  
Alaska   First Offense - Class A Misdemeanor: 10 day suspended imprisonment provided at least 80 hours of community service are completed; possible forfeiture of vehicle; license suspension increased by at least 90 days. Subsequent Offense - Class A Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for at least 10 days; possible forfeiture of vehicle; license suspension increased by at least 90 days.
Arizona   Class 1 Misdemeanor - Imprisonment for up to 6 months; possible vehicle impoundment for up to 30 days. Driving on a suspended or revoked license - Class 2 misdemeanor This charge carries a potential sentence of 4 months in jail and fines of up to $750.
Arkansas Misdemeanor: Fine no more than $500 Imprisonment for between 2 days and 6 months Shall extend the period of the suspension for an additional like period and, if the conviction was upon a charge of driving while a license was revoked, the office shall not issue a new license for an additional period of one (1) year from and after the date such person would otherwise have been entitled to apply for a new license.
California $300-$1,000 Fine Imprisonment for between 5 days and 6 months Subsequent Offense - Imprisonment for between 10 days and 1 year; $500-$2000 fine.
Colorado Misdemeanor - No more than $500 Imprisonment for no more than 6 months, license suspension increased by 1 year.
If the license restraint is due to an alcohol related offense there is a mandatory 30 days to 1 year in jail for a first offense. Minimum fine of $500 to $1,000.
Subsequent Offense - Driver ineligible to be issued a driver’s license for a period of three years.
A second alcohol-based driving under restraint will result in a mandatory 90-day to 2-year jail sentence. Minimum fine of $500 to $3,000.
Connecticut $150 - $200 Imprisonment for no more than 3 months Subsequent Offense - Imprisonment for no more than 1 year, $200-$600 fine, or both.
Delaware $500-$1,000 Imprisonment for between 30 days and 6 months. Possible vehicle impoundment of at least 90 days Subsequent Offense - Imprisonment for between 60 days and 1 year; $1,000-$4,000 fine; possible vehicle impoundment of at least 1 year.
District of Columbia Imprisonment for no more than 1 year  
Florida Misdemeanor $500 - $5,000 First Offense - 2nd Degree Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for no more than 60 days or $500 fine Second Offense - 1st Degree Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for no more than 1 year or $1,000 fine.Subsequent Offense- 3rd Degree Felony: Imprisonment for no more than 5 years or $5,000 fine. Immediate vehicle impoundment.
Georgia Misdemeanor - $500 -$5,000 First Offense - Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for between 2 days and 1 year; possible additional fine of no more than $1,000. sSecond or Third Offenses - High and Aggravated Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for between 10 days and 1 year; possible additional fine of $1,000-$2,500. Fourth or Subsequent Offenses - Felony: Imprisonment for 1-5 years; possible addition fine of $2,500-$5,000.
Hawaii $250-$2,000 First Offense - Imprisonment for 3-30 days; $250-$1,000 fine; license suspension increased by 1 year; additional, inapplicable penalties. Second Offense - Imprisonment for 30 days; $1,000 fine; license suspension increased by 2 years; additional. Subsequent Offense - Imprisonment for 1 year, $2,000 fine. permanent license revocation; Additional, inapplicable penalties.
Idaho Misdemeanor - $1,000 -$3,000 First Offense - Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for between 2 days and 6 months; fine of no more than $1,000; license suspension increased by 180 days. Second Offense - Imprisonment for between 20 days and 1 year; fine of no more than $1,000; license suspension increased by 1 year. Subsequent Offense - Imprisonment for between 30 days and 1 year; fine of no more than $3,000; license suspension increased by 2 years.
Illinois Misdemeanor - $2,500 -$25,000 First Offense - Class A Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for no more than 1 year; fine of no more than $2,500. Subsequent Offense - Class 4 Felony: Imprisonment for 1-3 years; fine of up to $25,000. Possible vehicle impoundment. Fourth or Subsequent Offenses - Possible seizure of license plate; possible vehicle immobilization.
Indiana Felony - No more than $10,000 Class 6 Felony - Imprisonment for between 6 months and 2 years, 6 months; fine of no more than $10,000.  
Iowa Misdemeanor - $250 -$1,500 License suspension increased for an additional like period or for one year, whichever is shorter.  
Kansas Misdemeanor: $100 First Offense - Class B Nonperson Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for at least 5 days; fine of at least $100. Subsequent Offense - Class A Nonperson Misdemeanor: Imprisonment without eligibility for parole until completion of 5 days; fine of at least $100. License suspension increased by 90 days.
Kentucky Misdemeanor: Up to $250 First Offense - Class B Misdemeanor: Imprisonment up to 90 days; license suspension increased by 6 months. Fine up to $250 Second Offense - Class A Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for between 90 days and 1 year; license suspension increased by 1 year. Third or Subsequent Offense - Class D Felony: Imprisonment for 1-5 years; license suspension revoked for additional 2 years.
Louisiana $500-$2,500 Person with a Class D or E driver’s license: Imprisonment for no more than 6 months, fine of no more than $500, or both. May be subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,250. Person with a Class A, B, or C driver’s license: Imprisonment for no more than 6 months, fine of no more than $5,000, or both. May be subject to a civil penalty of up to $2,500. Subsequent Offense - Imprisonment for between 7 days and 6 months; fine of $300-$500; potential civil fine of no more than $1,150. Subsequent Offense - Class A, B, or C driver’s license: Imprisonment for between 7 days and 6 months; fine of $300-$500; potential civil fine of no more than $2,500. License suspension increased by 1 year
Maine Class E Crime: Up to $1,000 First Offense – Class E: Crimes punishable by up to six months incarceration and a $1,000 fine  
Maryland Misdemeanor - $1,000 First Offense - Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for no more than 1 year, fine of no more than $1,000, or both; possible license suspension increased by no more than 1 year. Subsequent Offense - Misdemeanor Imprisonment for no more than 2 years, fine of no more than $1,000, or both; possible license suspension increased by no more than 18 months if second offense, no more than 2 years for subsequent offenses. Possible vehicle impoundment.
Massachusetts Misdemeanor - $500 -$1,000 First Offense - Imprisonment for no more than 10 days, $500-$1,000 fine, or both Subsequent Offense - Imprisonment for between 60 days and 1 year. License suspension increased by 60 days.
Michigan Misdemeanor - $500 -$1,000 First Offense - Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for no more than 93 days, a fine of no more than $500, or both. Second Offense - Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for no more than 1 year, a fine of no more than $1,000, or both. Cancellation of vehicle’s registration plates.License suspension increased by like period.
Minnesota Misdemeanor - No more than $1,000 Misdemeanor - Imprisonment for no more than 90 days, fine of no more than $1,000, or both.  
Mississippi Misdemeanor - $200 -$500 Misdemeanor - Imprisonment for between 48 hours and 6 months; $200-$500 fine; license suspension increased by 6 months.  
Missouri   First Offense - Class D Misdemeanor: Up to $500 fine. No set term of imprisonment; not to exceed one year. Second Offense - Class A Misdemeanor: Fine not to exceed $2,000. Imprisonment for between 6 months and 1 year. Subsequent Offense - Class E Felony: Imprisonment for no more than 4 years.
Montana Misdemeanor - No more than $500 First Offense – Fine not to exceed $500 and term of imprisonment not to exceed 6 months. Imprisonment for no less than 2 days and not to exceed 6 months, license suspension increased by 1 year, vehicle used is seized and rendered inoperable for 30 days.
Nebraska   First Offense - Class II Misdemeanor: Unable to operate any motor vehicle for 1 year; license revocation for like period. Second or Third Offense - Class II Misdemeanor: Unable to operate any motor vehicle for 2 year; license revocation for like period. Fourth or Subsequent Offense - Class I Misdemeanor: Unable to operate any motor vehicle for 2 year; license revocation for like period.
Nevada Misdemeanor - No more than $1,000 Imprisonment for no more than 6 months, a fine of no more than $1,000, or both. If license suspended, extension of suspension by like period. If license (revoked), extension of period of ineligibility for license by 1 year.  
New Hampshire Misdemeanor - No more than $1,000 Misdemeanor - Imprisonment for a period not less than 7 consecutive 24-hour periods to be served within 6 months of the conviction, fine of no more than $1,000; license suspension increased by 1 year.  
New Jersey $500-$1,000 First Offense - $500 fine. Second Offense - Imprisonment for 1-5 days; $750 fine. Subsequent Offense - Imprisonment for 10 days; $1,000 fine. License suspension increased by no more than 6 months.
New Mexico Misdemeanor - No more than $1,000 Imprisonment for 4-364 days; possible fine of no more than $1,000. Possible vehicle immobilization.  
New York Misdemeanor - $250 -$500 First Offense - Imprisonment for no more than 30 days, $200-$500 fine, or both. Subsequent Offens - : Imprisonment for no more than 180 days; fine of no less than $500.
North Carolina Misdemeanor - No more than $300 First Offense - Class 3 Misdemeanor - Imprisonment for 1-10 days; fine of no more than $200; license suspension increased by 1 year. Second Offense - License suspension increased by 2 years. Third Offense - Permanent license suspension.
North Dakota Misdemeanor - $1,500 -$3,000 First, Second or Third Offense - Class B Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for no more than 30 days, $1,500 fine, or both. Fourth or Subsequent Offense - Class A Misdemeanor - Imprisonment for no more than 1 year, $3,000 fine, or both.Possible destruction of license plate.
Ohio Misdemeanor - $1,000 First Offense - Unclassified Misdemeanor: Fine of no more than $1,000; 500 hours community service. Subsequent Offense - 1st Degree Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for no more than 180 days; $1,000 fine. Possible license plate impoundment.
Oklahoma Misdemeanor - $50-$1,000 First Offense - $100-$500 fine. Second Offense - $200-$750 fine. Subsequent Offense - Imprisonment for no more than 1 year, $300-$1,000 fine, or both.
Oregon $220-$2,000 Class A Traffic Infraction: $220-$2,000 fine. Possible vehicle impoundment.  
Pennsylvania $200 Summary Offense: $200 fine; license suspension increased by 1 year if originally suspended, 2 years if it was originally revoked.  
Rhode Island Misdemeanor - $250-$1,000 First Offense - Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for no more than 30 days; $250-$500 fine; license suspension increased by 3 months. Subsequent Offense - Imprisonment for no more than 1 year; $350-$1,000 fine; 2nd Offense - license suspension increased by 6 months, license revoked.
South Carolina $300-$1,000 First Offense - Imprisonment for no more than 30 days, $300 fine, or both. Second Offense - Imprisonment for no more than 60 days, $600 fine, or both. Subsequent Offense - Imprisonment for no more than 90 days; $1,000 fine.
South Dakota Misdemeanor - No more than $2,000 Revoked - Class 1 Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for no more than 1 year; fine of no more than $2,000. Suspended or Cancelled - Class 2 Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for no more than 30 days; fine of no more than $500.  
Tennessee Misdemeanor - $500 -$2,500 First Offense - Class B Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for not more than 6 months, fine of no more than $500, or both; license suspension increased by like period of time. Subsequent Offense - Class A Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for not more than 11 months, 29 days, fine of no more than $2,500, or both; license suspension increased by like period of time.
Texas Misdemeanor - $500 -$2,000 First Offense - Class C Misdemeanor: Fine of no more than $500. Subsequent Offense - Class B Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for no more than 180 days, fine of no more than $2,000, or both.
Utah Misdemeanor - $1,000 Class C Misdemeanor: Imprisonment of no more than 90 days; up to $750 fine.  
Vermont No more than $5,000 First Offense - Imprisonment for no more than 2 years, fine of no more than $5,000, or both. Sixth or Subsequent Offense - Imprisonment for no more 2 years, fine of $5,000, or both. Possible seizure of license plates.
Virginia Misdemeanor - No more than $2,500 Class 1 Misdemeanor - Imprisonment for no more than 12 months, fine of no more than $2,500, or both.  
Washington Misdemeanor - No more than $5,000 Gross Misdemeanor - Imprisonment for no more than 364 days, fine of no more than $5,000, or both.  
West Virginia Misdemeanor - $100 -$500 First Offense Misdemeanor - $100-$500 fine. Second Offense - Misdemeanor: $100-$500 fine. Third or Subsequent Offense - Misdemeanor: Imprisonment for 30-90 days; $150-$500 fine.
Wisconsin $50-$2,500 Suspended - $50-$200 fine. Revoked - Fine of no more than $2,500.Vehicle may be impounded  
Wyoming Misdemeanor - $750 Misdemeanor - Imprisonment for no more than 6 months, fine of no more than $750, or both.  

What happens if you get stopped without your license?

If you get stopped without your license, your first offense will likely result in a misdemeanor charge that carries much heavier penalties than a traffic ticket. If you get caught a second time, the penalty becomes harsher, and you could end up with a felony charge.

The fines for driving without a license vary from state to state. It's essential to understand each state's laws and penalties. Most states institute more severe penalties if driving without a license was a knowing violation.

Check out this video outlining the penalties for driving without a license in Colorado -

Penalties for Driving Without a License

In all 50 states, there are severe penalties for getting behind the wheel without a valid driver's license. These penalties range from tickets to having your vehicle impounded and felony incarceration. Even if you have a valid license, failure to produce it when asked by a police officer can lead to penalties, depending on the circumstances.

Charges for driving without a license typically fall into one of two categories: correctable offenses and willful violations.

Correctable Offenses

Forgetting to carry your driver's license while driving a vehicle may lead to a "fix-it ticket", wherein you must later show proof that you fixed the violation to have the citation dismissed by the traffic court. (In this case, you'd be required to produce proof of a valid driver's license.) Failure to present this evidence typically leads to fines or other penalties.

Willful Violations

Penalties for willful violations of licensing requirements, such as driving on a suspended or revoked license, are much more severe. 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.

Reinstatement of your driving privileges is not automatic. You must follow DMV reinstatement procedures and physically receive a license to regain your driving privileges, even if your criminal charges were dismissed or reduced.

Driving Without Proof of a License

Operating a motor vehicle without proof of a driver's license, driving without a physical license on your person, is a lesser offense and will generally not result in an arrest being made. While you will most likely get a ticket, it is typically a simple traffic infraction, not a misdemeanor.

Going to court for driving without a license on your person with your driver's license will most likely result in the ticket being dismissed, although you may need to pay a small fine. Fines are different in each state and may be as little as $100 or as much as $1,000 or more.

In contrast, operating a motor vehicle without a valid driver's license is a serious offense, as driving with the knowledge that your license is invalid or suspended is seen as a greater crime.

Driving With a Suspended or Revoked Driver's License

Driving with a license that has been revoked or suspended tends to be a more serious matter. If you start driving while your license is still suspended or revoked, criminal charges can result. Penalties can include steep fines, community service, and jail time, with increased sentences for repeat offenders. In this situation, drivers can almost always expect that their vehicle will be impounded.

If you start driving after the suspension period has expired but before you've completed any additional conditions, the courts often suspend the license until the requirements are met. This means that you will be guilty of driving on a suspended license, or, alternatively, guilty of driving without a valid license.

No state may issue a driver's license if there is an active suspension or revocation in another state. License suspension and revocation information is shared among all 50 states.

Frequently Asked Questions: Driving Without a License

Hopefully, we've answered most of your questions about driving without a license, but we want to quickly address some common questions that haven't been covered yet.

Will I go to jail for driving without a license?

So what is the punishment for driving without a license? As we discussed above, it depends on whether you have a license that just isn't with you or if you are an unlicensed driver. You will probably not go to jail for simply not having your license with you. 

If you are driving with a suspended or revoked license, though, the police may arrest you rather than allow you to continue illegally operating a vehicle.

What happens if you get pulled over and never had a license?

If you never had a license because you just never applied for one, the penalty will usually be similar to driving with an expired license: a misdemeanor. If you never had a license because you weren't allowed to, it will be treated as driving on a suspended or revoked license: a felony.

How do police catch unlicensed drivers?

Typically police catch unlicensed drivers as a result of stopping drivers for another reason. If you are driving recklessly, speeding, or provide any other reason for the police to pull you over it's almost certain that they will learn about the status of your license, too.

What can I do if I got a ticket for driving without a license?

Driving without a license will be difficult to get out of. The only thing you can do to fight the ticket is to either prove that you do have a license and the ticket was issued mistakenly or to argue that there was no legal reason to pull you over at the time you're not having a license was discovered.

To make the second argument will require an experienced attorney.

Perhaps the best course of action is to do what you can to remedy the situation that led to getting the ticket as much as possible before you have to appear in court. Judges are much more likely to be lenient on defendants who take action on their own to do better.

What happens if you get caught driving without a license under 18?

Typically the penalty for a minor driving without a license will be misdemeanor charges. The driver will also have extra time added to how long until they become eligible for a license. If the driver has a learner's permit, penalties will usually be less.

What happens if you get caught driving without a license or permit?

The circumstances surrounding the driver being pulled over will factor into the consequences. An unlicensed minor driving relatively safely will face less harsh penalties than one speeding or driving under the influence.

License Status and Insurance

Driver's license status is essential when it comes to car insurance. While it is possible to insure a vehicle without a driver's license, it is unlikely an insurance company would grant you coverage.

If you do find an insurance carrier willing to insure your vehicle, you can expect to pay a higher rate. There's also a chance you will be designated an excluded driver, meaning you'd be intentionally removed from the auto insurance policy. If an excluded driver gets into an accident, the insurance provider won't cover the claim.

If caught driving while your license is either revoked or suspended, your insurer will almost certainly cancel your coverage, require special (expensive) coverage, or raise your rates drastically.

If you got caught driving without a license, the penalties can be very severe. A criminal defense lawyer can help.

Criminal offenses are damaging to your record. This is why it's important to consult with an attorney near you or find help by asking a question on our forum of hundreds of attorneys and other legal professionals.

References:

  1. dmvnv.com/50_state_dmv_list.html

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