Driving Without a License

In order to ensure the safety of all individuals on the road, all states in the United States have developed comprehensive sets of laws meant to govern the actions of drivers and deter traffic offenses. One of the most fundamental principles underlying these sets of laws is the fact that driving is a privilege that must be applied for. Therefore, a driver’s license is permitted only for those who have established that they can abide by the rules of the road and have indicated that they will respect the responsibilities that driving necessarily encompasses. Since a license is a privilege and a responsibility, all states have identified driving without a license as a punishable offense.

Reasons for Driving Without a License

There are several reasons why an individual may be caught driving without a license. Often, the driver may simply never have applied for a driver’s license from his or her local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and thus no license has been issued. This is often the case for drivers who lack citizenship or legal status in the United States and cannot lawfully obtain a driver’s license. In order to reduce driving without a license offenses among undocumented populations, some states, including California and Illinois, have passed laws allowing unlawful immigrants access to driver’s licenses. 

A driver may also be driving without a driver’s license because that license has been suspended or revoked due to a past crime or outstanding legal issue. In these circumstances, the driver may be charged with driving without a license, or with driving with a license that has been suspended or revoked, depending on the laws of the specific state.

Punishment for Driving Without a License

Penalties for driving without a license vary widely depending on the circumstances causing the lack of a license. If an individual has never obtained a license, or has an expired license, punishments will be less severe and may include fines. This crime is usually charged as a misdemeanor. However, in some states, a driver who is caught driving without a license as a result of a license revoked because of a DUI or other severe offense may face harsher punishment, including jail time and an extension of the length of the license suspension. Notably, the location where one is driving also matters in some states. A driver who is caught driving on private roads or a remote area may face less punishment than someone caught driving on major public highways.

An additional common effect of a driving without a license charge is a significant increase in car insurance premiums. Many car insurance companies will be quite reluctant to provide insurance for individuals caught driving illegally in this manner.

Driving Without Proof of License

In some circumstances, an individual may be stopped for a traffic violation and find that he or she has forgotten the license. Although in possession of a valid license, the driver will be unable to show law enforcement officers that this is the case. Typically, the driver may be given a citation or a warning about the failure to produce a license, but he or she will be given an opportunity to show the license at a later date. It is important to understand that in many states, a failure to produce a license is presumed to mean that the driver does not have a valid license, and it is the driver’s obligation to produce a license to the court in order to avoid a criminal charge.