Studies found that unlicensed drivers tend to have riskier driving behaviors. As a result, they’re more likely to cause accidents and sustain severe injuries.
For that reason, it’s illegal for unlicensed drivers to operate a vehicle in the US. What’s more, driving with an invalid license is almost the same as being an unlicensed driver. You may have a physical driver’s license (DL), but if it’s suspended, that can be the same as driving without a license.
What exactly does “driving without a driver’s license” mean, though? Is it a crime, and if so, what can happen if you get caught behind the wheel without a valid DL?
We’ll answer all those questions in this guide, so be sure to read on!
Can You Ever Drive Without a License?
No, you cannot. Every US state prohibits an unlicensed driver from operating a motor vehicle. Even if you’re only taking a 5-minute round-trip drive, you cannot and should not drive if you don’t have a DL.
What Exactly Does Driving Without a License Mean?
First, it could mean that a driver is operating a vehicle without a valid driver’s license. It could also mean that a driver is operating a vehicle without carrying proof of a driver’s license. Most states clearly differentiate the two and impose different punishments for both.
Driving Without a Valid Driver’s License
All US states consider driving as a privilege that one needs to earn and obtain. For that reason, all states require drivers to apply for a driver’s license before they can drive. All drivers must carry their valid DL whenever they operate a vehicle.
However, not everyone in the US can lawfully acquire a driver’s license. Those who don’t have legal resident status or who lack citizenship are a few examples. These individuals may know how to drive, but it’s still illegal for them to do so in the US since they don’t have a license.
A person may also get caught driving without a license if they drive on a suspended license. Most states, such as Texas, have strict driving while license suspended (DWLS) laws. License suspension usually occurs due to DUI/DWI, driving without insurance, and speeding.
Driving on a revoked license is another way for a person to be driving without a valid driver’s license. A revoked license can be a temporary or permanent license cancellation.
Driving Without Proof of a Driver’s License
Driving without proof of a driver’s license means driving without carrying the license. It can be an honest mistake, such as forgetting it at home or the office. Some may also end up driving without their actual license after losing it or having it stolen.
Is Driving Without a License a Crime?
Most states regard a first or second offense of driving without a valid DL as a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are criminal offenses that usually come with a fine and imprisonment. They are less grave than felonies, but they are crimes nonetheless.
These misdemeanors can become felonies if they occur for the third or the fourth time. Felonies, being the most serious criminal offense, can come with a jail time of more than a year.
Driving without proof of a driver’s license isn’t usually a crime, so long as it happened for the first time. In this case, you most likely will receive a fix-it ticket, also known as a correctable violation. You only need to show proof of correction, pay a dismissal fee, and the court will dismiss the charge.
Do note that, in most states, it’s a crime to refuse to display or furnish one’s DL upon the demand of a police officer. In such cases, the law presumes that a driver who does this doesn’t have a valid driver’s license. If you forgot your license, it would be best just to let the officer know.
Penalties and Punishment for Driving Without a Valid License
In most states, fines and jail time are two of the most common penalties for driving without a valid DL. However, some states impose additional penalties, such as vehicle impoundment. In others, offenders must complete community service.
Almost all states impose a monetary fine on drivers caught operating a vehicle without a DL. Oklahoma has among the lowest for first offenders, with its minimum fine being $50. This goes up to $100 for drivers who operate a vehicle with a suspended, denied, or revoked DL.
Getting caught driving without a valid DL can land motorists in jail for two days up to one year.
The shortest sentences usually apply only to first-time offenders. Second offenses often have longer imprisonment times ranging from three to six months. Third and subsequent offenses are those that can lead to imprisonment of up to a year.
In some states, driving with a suspended license can lead to an extended suspension. For example, the State of Alabama can extend a driver’s DL revocation by another six months. That’s on top of the $100 to $500 fine imposed by the state on such motorists.
Some states also punish those who drive without a valid DL by impounding their vehicle. A few examples are Alabama, Arizona, and Delaware. In most cases, the owner has to pay for each day that the vehicle remains in the pound.
Ohio imposes a community service term of up to 500 hours for those who get caught driving without a valid DL. It may include helping out street-maintenance departments or park clean-ups. This is aside from the penalty of up to $1,000 that the offender must pay.
Don’t Risk It: Always Drive With a Valid Driver’s License
Driving without a license, even if it’s only for a few minutes, can lead to long-term consequences. So, don’t take the risk; if you don’t have a DL yet, apply for one so that you can enjoy the privilege. If you have a suspended or revoked DL, get it reinstated first before you slip behind the wheel.
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