In general, being convicted of driving without a license can result in some serious legal penalties since it is considered to be illegal in every state. However, the phrase “driving without a license” is heavily dependent on context.

For instance, there is a difference between simply forgetting your license at home, as opposed to intentionally driving without your license because it is suspended. The latter means you are willfully violating the law by knowingly operating your vehicle with a suspended license, whereas the former is seen as a minor traffic violation in which you failed to show proof of the license that permits you to drive your vehicle.

The following are several situations where driving without a license will be seen as an intentional violation of the law:

  • Driving with a suspended license;
  • Driving with a revoked license;
  • Driving with an expired license;
  • Operating a motor vehicle without a license while under the legal driving age (usually under the age of 16 in most states);
  • Failing to apply for or to renew a driver license at all; and
  • Driving with an invalid license for some other reason than the above list.

On the other hand, not having a valid driver license on you because you left it on your kitchen counter by mistake before leaving the house in the morning is a scenario that can be resolved a bit more easily.

It should be noted, however, that despite the fact that driving without proof of a license (e.g., you left it at home by mistake) carries lesser consequences, it is not something that should be taken lightly. Not only is this one of the most common traffic violations, but if it happens enough times the person can accrue enough points on their license to have it revoked.

Lastly, it may be best to keep in mind that the information in this article applies generally and relates to the most common of ‘driving without a license’ scenarios. Other factors, such as repeat violations and specific state laws, can alter the outcomes of a case.

What are Some Penalties for Driving Without a License?

As previously mentioned, the legal consequences for driving without a license can vary on a case-by-case basis and is also contingent on the traffic laws of a particular state.

The following are some examples of the penalties that a person can receive for driving without a license across different states:

  • New York: Driving without a valid license can cost a person anywhere from $75 to up to $300 in fines, and a possible jail sentence of 15 days. Driving without proof of a license can result in an arrest, however, the person will not be convicted if they can show proof that they are in possession of a valid driver license. New York also has various degrees of an offense known as “aggravated unlicensed operation” (“AUO”) of a motor vehicle.

    • AUOs are issued when a person drives with a suspended or revoked license. The degrees range from third to first degree (i.e., a class E felony), and the punishments increase respectively. Fines typically range from $200 to $5,000, and jail sentences can extend from 30 days to up to 4 years in prison.
  • Texas: Driving without a valid license in Texas can earn a person a fine costing up to $200, and a sentence for 72 hours up to six months in jail. Those who are stopped without possession of a valid license can have the charge dismissed in court for a $10 fee if they can show proof that they possess one. As for a person whose driver license has been revoked or suspended, Texas categorizes it as either a Class A, B, or C misdemeanor.

    • Class C carries the least severe punishments, while Class A can result in the most serious penalties. Fines can go up to $500 to $4,000, and jail sentences can be up to 180 days to one year, depending on the class of misdemeanor for the charge.
  • Illinois: If a person refuses to show their license to law enforcement or cannot produce one, then they can be charged with a petty offense and may have to pay up to $500 in fines. For those caught driving without a valid license in Illinois, they can receive up to a year in jail and a fine for anywhere between $25 to $2,500. Their vehicle can be impounded and only released to a person who can show they have insurance.

    • They can also be stopped from obtaining a license for a certain amount of time. Also, the more times a person is caught without a license, the greater their chance increases for never obtaining a license (e.g., a fifth time offense can prohibit them from acquiring a driver license for life).

      • As for driving while a license is suspended or revoked, the fine can cost between $25 to up to $25,000. They can face up to three years in prison and will have to perform 100 hours of community service as well. Again, these punishments may vary depending on whether the person is a first-time offender and what crimes they were convicted of prior to the new charge.

As evidenced by the above examples, driving without a license comes with serious penalties. At best, a person can expect to receive a minor fine and have their car impounded, but at worst they could be issued a prison sentence and lose their right to drive.

What Happens If You Drive Without a License as a Minor?

A minor who is caught driving without a license can face extremely serious consequences. Not only will they not be insured for an accident since insurance companies will not cover persons who drive without a license, but if an incident occurs, they can be tried as an adult.

Additionally, they can also be arrested, fined, and imprisoned. Depending on state law and the circumstances, the court may have discretion to prohibit them from obtaining a license until they turn 21 years old (as opposed to the standard legal driving age of 16).

Lastly, even if the minor holds a driving permit, they can still face legal consequences if they do not adhere to the permit laws enacted in their state. For instance, most states only allow minor permit-holders to drive if an adult supervisor accompanies them in the car. Disobeying permit restrictions can lead to fines, surcharges, a suspension or revocation of the permit, and a delay in obtaining a driver license.

Do I Need to Get a New License If I Move to a New State?

If a person relocates and becomes a permanent resident of a new state, then it is important that they register for new license plates well as a new state driver license as soon as possible.
However, every state has different laws regarding when the new resident has to apply by and how long they will be permitted to drive without the new state license before it will be considered a violation.

For example, a person who moves from another state to New York state has 30 days to exchange their driver license. In which case, they will have to take a trip to the DMV to update their information and turn-in their old state license for a New York one.

Even if the move is only temporary, a person must still check the laws in their state to see if they will be required to update their license. Some states will not require it, but others may if the person is staying over a certain amount of days or months (usually between 30 to 90 days).

For instance, if a person is temporarily relocating to Texas due to a work assignment, Texas state law will require them to apply for a Texas driver license within 90 days (reflecting their temporary Texas address) and to register their motor vehicle within 30 days, but they will be able to retain their permanent state license to use when they return to their home state.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer If I Was Driving Without a License?

Intentionally driving without a license may result in some serious legal penalties. Thus, if you are facing charges for driving without a license, it may be in your best interest to contact a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to walk you through the steps of your case and can inform you about your rights as well as the laws that apply in your jurisdiction. Your lawyer can also help determine whether there are any defenses available to raise against the charges and can represent you in court if necessary.