The Law Dictionary

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What Happens If You Drive Without A License?

Young driver in car

Driving is a privilege that Americans hold dear, so much so that some people will engage in risky behavior like driving without a license. Nonetheless, the penalties for doing so can be steep. They vary between states as each government creates and enforces its own motor vehicle codes. However, some broad conclusions can be drawn.

Driving Without a License as a Misdemeanor

No one who gets caught driving without a license is going to do a hard time unless they have outstanding arrest warrants for more serious crimes. States almost always classify driving without a license as a misdemeanor, one that is punishable by:

  • Fines
  • Community service
  • Short term in jail

Fines are different in each state and maybe as little as $100 or as much as $1,000 or more.

These punishments are fairly standard for first-time offenders who never got a driver’s license forgot to renew an expired license or moved to another state and did not get a valid driver’s license for their current state of residence. Sometimes the charges can be reduced to an infraction, essentially the equivalent of a ticket, if the driver gets a valid license soon after the incident. If the potential penalties are fairly serious, it may make sense to hire legal counsel as a lawyer may be able to get the charges reduced or dismissed.

Drivers who have a valid license and simply forgot it at home may initially be liable for any of these punishments, but they are typically dismissed once the driver proves to the court that they were legally licensed at the time. This can prove to be a bit of a hassle as it may involve a brief court appearance, but the trouble can be worth it to get out of a fine.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Suspended License Misdemeanor?



Driving While Revoked or Suspended

Driving with a license that has been revoked or suspended tends to be a more serious matter. In this situation, drivers can almost always expect to be arrested, and it’s quite likely that their vehicle will be impounded. Moreover, their license may be subject to a longer suspension term or may be revoked if it was only suspended before. Drivers in these circumstances may also face steep fines and time in jail.

Driving is a privilege not to be taken for granted. Keep a valid license to avoid hassle and expense.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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