Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate drivers about...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Licensed Agent for 10 Years

UPDATED: Mar 26, 2019

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All states require drivers to be licensed in order to operate a motor vehicle on public roads. If someone operates a motor vehicle without a state-issued driver’s license, the resulting charge is a misdemeanor in most states.

This is assuming the unlicensed driver did not cause an accident, is not driving under the influence and has not had the driver’s license revoked or suspended for another violation. In cases such as this, charges can quickly escalate.

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Driver’s licenses are separated in 2 categories for most typical drivers of private passenger vehicles – restricted and unrestricted licenses.

Although specific requirements for licensure vary from state to state, most states offer a “learner’s permit” for young drivers, often for those aged 15 or 16, and a full license for those 16 or older.

Young Drivers Restricted License

Many states have special requirements for licensure for teenagers, including specific time periods in which certain driving privileges are prohibited. For example, in Georgia, teen drivers can only receive a license at 16 if they have completed a driver’s education course and can show proof of regular school attendance.

Once the teen receives a license, he or she cannot operate a vehicle with more than two other non-family members as passengers for the first six months of the license, and cannot operate the vehicle at certain times of nights. As the teen holds the license for longer periods of time without a moving violation, more freedoms are allowed.

However, teens who violate these restrictions can be considered “unlicensed drivers” and may be subject to the same penalties as those driving without a license.

Unrestricted Driver’s License

For adults, however, most states do not restrict licenses. Once an adult receives a license, it is expected that he or she will behave responsibly on the roads. Evidence that shows that the adult is an unsafe driver can result in gradually increasing penalties culminating in the loss of a license.

Once a license has been lost, or if the adult fails to renew the license in the proper manner, any driving is prohibited. Anyone caught operating a vehicle under these conditions is considered an unlicensed driver.

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Penalties for Driving with No Drivers License

The first conviction for driving without a license will often result in fairly mild penalties, especially if the driver was unlicensed due to an oversight—for example, forgetting to renew the driver’s license within the statutory period. Subsequent convictions will escalate the consequences.

However, even a first conviction can carry serious consequences if the driver’s license has been suspended for reckless driving or other charges. In California, for example, a person caught driving on a suspended license must serve a minimum of 5 days in jail, and pay a minimum fine of $300.

Subsequent convictions require at least ten days in jail and a fine of at least $500. In Pennsylvania, the standard first offense fine for driving without a license is $200, with a $25 fine applicable if the person later produces a valid license.

However, if you are caught with a second offense, or if your license was already revoked, the revocation period will automatically be lengthened, and the violator can be incarcerated for up to 6 months. In Florida, driving with a suspended license will cost you at least $500 and possibly 60 days in jail.

It is clear that each state has its own way of dealing with unlicensed drivers. However, there are commonalities among the states that can be listed to give you a general idea of the consequences of this act.

If you are driving without a license but did not intend to break the law, such as a situation where you lost your wallet or did not realize your license was to be renewed recently, you will probably receive a minimal fine and may even avoid penalties altogether if you can later produce the valid license.

If you are driving without a license because you never applied for one, or because your license expired several years ago, you will probably receive a fine ranging from $100 to $500. In some cases, you could spend up to ten days in jail, as well, although judges usually reserve this punishment for a driver who was reckless or committing some other offense, such as DUI, when stopped.

If you are driving on a license that has been suspended, revoked, or canceled for any offense, you can expect a much greater degree of punishment. In other situations, it could be argued that the person did not intend to break the law, but was merely uninformed about the process of apply for or keeping a license.

Judges take a dim view, however, of someone who has been ordered by a court to surrender a license, yet continues to drive.

Someone who does this is showing disdain for laws and the legal system in general, and the court will probably order much harsher punishment, especially if it is not a first offense. It is possible for multiple offense to qualify you to be tried as a felon under the repeat offender laws in many states.

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