Driving Without a License in United States: What Happens When You Get Caught?

In every state, it is against the law to drive without a license. Still, most states make a difference between not having a current driver’s license and not having proof of your license.

Most likely, you won’t be arrested for forgetting your wallet before getting in your car. But driving while knowing that your license is canceled or not valid is a much worse crime.

What happens if you drive without a license? It depends on your state and the circumstances. It’s possible that you could lose your license, have your car towed, or even go to jail.

Driver Licensing Violations

There are several ways for a driver to break a driver’s license rule. It could have been a mistake. Or, they drove even though they knew they weren’t allowed to.

These are the most popular types of driver’s license violations:

  • Driving with a license from another state after the application time for new residents is over
  • Driving with a license that has expired
  • Driving with a license that is temporarily suspended
  • Driving with a license that has been suspended for good
  • Not having a valid license on hand while driving or operating a car

When police stop a car, they often see problems with the license. If they pull you over for something else, like speeding or careless driving, they will ask to see your license and registration. You might want to keep quiet until you can talk to a criminal defense lawyer if you don’t have your license.

Penalties for Driving With a Unvalid License

Depending on the situation, not showing a legal driver’s license can lead to different punishments. Charges are usually broken down into two groups: offenses that can be fixed and willful violations.

Correctable Offenses

When you are busy getting the kids to school or coming home from a night out, it’s easy to lose your driver’s license card. Even though driving without a license is against the law, there is some room for mistakes. This is a crime that can be fixed.

If you forget your license, you could get a ticket or a warning. If you break a small mechanical part, like a headlight, the police may give you a “fix-it” ticket. You have a chance to fix the problem after the traffic stop if you get a fix-it ticket.

If you get a ticket, you have to show that you have a legal driver’s license in traffic court. The judge may then throw out your ticket. You could get fines or other punishments, though, if you don’t show proof in court.

Willful Violations

If you broke the law on purpose, that’s called a deliberate violation. Here are some situations where intentional violations happen:

  • Going to a friend’s house when your license is only limited for work
  • Giving your car to someone who doesn’t have a license
  • Not having a license to drive because no one could give you a ride

Some states don’t let people drive if they think the person is too dangerous to be on the road. A major traffic crime like DUI (driving while impaired) can show that you are driving dangerously. Without the state’s OK, you can’t choose when to drive again.

Willful violations are more serious than most other traffic crimes and have harsher penalties. You could be arrested and charged with a minor crime. Drivers sometimes think they have a good reason to break the law, but courts don’t always agree. It’s smart to get the best security possible since a lot is at stake.

State Law Penalty Examples

The punishments can be different from one state to the next, as shown below:

Washington: If the judge thinks you’ll go to jail for a third time, you could get a habitual criminal sentence.

Illinois: If this is your first time driving without a license, you could have your license taken away for two months. If you drive while your license is suspended, you could go to jail for up to a year.

California: In California, the police can take your car and keep it for 30 days. If the crime comes with a DUI or another charge, you or your lawyer have to go to court. It is against the law to forget your license while driving.

New York: Not having a license can get you a $40 to $300 fine in New York. If someone breaks more than one suspension or a suspension because of DUI, they could be charged with a first- or second-degree misdemeanor or a murder.

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