Driving without a valid driver’s license is a serious offense that can result in jail time and higher insurance rates. Charges for driving without a license vary by state, but hefty fines are usually involved if you get caught by law enforcement.
In addition, driving without a license can have major implications for your car insurance coverage.
“If you are caught driving illegally with a suspended license, you now represent a higher risk to an insurer,” says Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.
- Driving without a driver’s license or a suspended or revoked license is illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
- The penalties for driving with a suspended or revoked license vary considerably by state.
- Depending on your state, driving with a suspended or revoked license can result in a fine of up to $25,000.
Is it illegal to drive without a driver’s license?
Driving without a driver’s license or driving with a suspended or revoked license is illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In most states, the first offense is a misdemeanor. If you have multiple offenses, it can be a felony.
The penalty for driving with a suspended license varies significantly from state to state. A first offense might result in a penalty that keeps you from driving for anywhere from a few months to up to a year.
A second offense and subsequent offenses will likely result in a longer suspension of your driving privileges. In some states, driving without a license could result in your vehicle being impounded.
Jail time of up to several years is possible, especially after a first offense. You might also be required to perform community service.
What happens if you get pulled over without a license?
The penalty for driving without a license will vary depending on various factors, including:
- The state you live in
- If you were driving with an expired license
- Whether your license was suspended or revoked
- Whether it was a first offense
Drivers might face hefty penalties that exceed $1,000, a suspension or revocation of their license, and possible jail time.
Here is a breakdown by state of what happens if you get pulled over without a license, according to 2021 data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
What’s the difference between a suspended license and a revoked license?
Driving with a suspended or revoked license is unwise. Here is a quick overview of these two violations.
What is a license suspension?
A suspended license is a temporary loss of your driving privileges, often due to excessive points on your license, driving without proof of insurance, or another major offense.
Once the period of suspension is over, the suspension ends automatically in some states, and your license is reinstated. You might need to apply to the department of motor vehicles in other states to have the suspension lifted.
There can be factors that lessen the severity of driving on a suspended license, including whether or not you knew you were driving on a suspended license.
“When it comes to driving without a license in Florida, the first offense is often ‘without knowledge,’ which means the driver didn’t know that their license was suspended,” says Arion Hunt, founder of the Arion Hunt Law Firm in Orlando, Florida. “This carries a civil infraction moving violation penalty similar to a speeding ticket.”
There are a few different reasons you could be unaware that your license is suspended and not know it. Most often, it is the result of unpaid traffic tickets.
“I would say that the vast majority of drivers charged with this are surprised to learn their license is suspended, and all of them are shocked to learn of its consequences,” says Derek Andrews, an attorney with Larkin Ingrassia, LLP in Newburgh, New York.
Every state law is different in how it deals with driving when you have a suspended license.
What if your license is revoked?
If your license has been revoked, it means that the license has been terminated, usually because of a serious infraction, such as a DUI.
The penalty for driving with a revoked license varies by state. A hefty fine might be involved. Your license suspension time will be increased and you will face the possibility of serving time in jail, which varies by the offense and the laws in your state.
In most states, driving with a suspended or revoked license is a misdemeanor for a first offense. When you are a repeat offender with a second or third offense, you might be looking at a felony and could spend some time behind bars.
“A driver who continues to drive on a suspended license gets labeled ‘habitual’ and faces felony charges, a $5,000 fine, five years of jail and parole. A judge can also order additional requirements on a case-by-case basis,” Hunt says.
Can you get car insurance without a license?
Yes, but it can be difficult. If you don’t have a license or currently have a suspended, revoked or expired license, you may still need insurance for various reasons.
Here are a couple of reasons you may need car insurance coverage without a license:
- You have a driver under 18 in the house: Most insurance companies will not let a driver under 18 purchase insurance coverage on their own because they cannot legally enter into a contract. So, if you have a teen child in the house who drives, you still need insurance coverage regardless of whether or not you drive.
- You have a personal driver or caregiver: If you have lost your license or can no longer drive due to health reasons, you may need a personal driver. If they are driving your car, you will need to insure the car.
A primary driver can be anyone who is licensed and will drive your car regularly. It can be a spouse, teenager, roommate or caretaker. However, the insurance premium will be based on the primary driver’s record. So, choose someone with a decent driving record to keep your premiums affordable.
You may need to list yourself as an excluded driver on the policy. When this is the case, you will have no coverage if you decide to drive. That means you will be financially responsible for any damage to your car and other people and their vehicles if you are at fault in an accident.
Can you get insurance with a suspended license?
You may still be able to get auto insurance with a suspended license, but it will be expensive, and you’ll have to meet certain conditions.
“A suspended license can result in much higher premiums and even losing coverage with your current insurer,” Walker says.
You can still apply for coverage if you don’t have a policy and your license is suspended. But you will likely have to get a policy from a car insurance company that accepts high-risk drivers.
You must show that your license suspension is for a short period, such as 30 days. Once your driving privileges are restored, you must show proof of reinstatement to your insurer.
If you have a long-term suspension, you might find a car insurance company that will allow you to buy a policy with another person named as the primary driver. You will not be listed on the policy until you get your license back.
Can insurance companies tell if your license has been suspended?
Insurance companies are not customarily notified if your license is suspended. The burden of telling the insurer about a suspended or canceled license is yours.
It is written into some policies that if your license is suspended, you must inform your insurer within a specific period, such as 30 or 60 days.
It is also possible that your insurer will find out about the suspension if it checks your driving record when the policy comes up for renewal.
Insurance companies are usually unaware you need an SR-22 unless you tell them. Your driving record with a DUI or suspended license may make them ask if you need one, but the DMV doesn’t usually alert insurers. That is your job.
If you are applying for new insurance, the insurer will ask for your driver’s license number and will see the status of your driving privileges.
Will you pay a higher insurance premium after driving with a suspended license?
In addition to the fines for driving without a valid license, you can expect your insurance rates to increase. Driving with a suspended or revoked license is severely frowned upon by insurers, as they deem it high-risk behavior. So, expect your rates to climb.
“Rates can easily increase anywhere between 25% to 30% when an insurance company sees that you were arrested for driving with a suspended or revoked license,” says Sa El, co-founder of Simply Insurance.
If your license is suspended or revoked for a long time – six months to a year or more – it will only increase your insurance pain. If your license has been suspended for a long period, your insurer might cancel your policy once it learns of the suspension.
This gap in coverage can lead to higher rates when you apply for coverage later, as insurance companies do not like to see a coverage gap.
Can you go to jail for driving without a license?
If you drive without a license in any of the 50 states — or the District of Columbia — you will face penalties.
Although the precise nature of these penalties can vary widely depending on the state you are in, the bottom line remains the same: Driving without a license is a serious offense everywhere.
In some cases, you might face fines. In more serious matters, you might be looking at jail time. And there are situations where you will face both fines and potential time behind bars.
How long can you go to jail for driving without a license?
Penalties for driving without a license vary from state to state.
For example, in Alabama, you could face up to 180 days in jail. In Arizona, that period jumps to six months.
In California, a first offense might get you anywhere from five days to six months behind bars. A second offense could result in up to a year in jail.
The more serious your crime, the longer of a sentence you might face.
For example, after at least four offenses in Georgia, you could end up behind bars for five years. In Kentucky, you could face five years of jail after a third offense.
FAQ: Suspended licenses and revoked licenses
Can you drive without a license in your possession?
The penalty for driving without a license in your possession isn’t as serious as driving with a suspended or revoked license. While you will most likely get a ticket, it is a traffic infraction, not a misdemeanor.
If you show up at court with your valid driver’s license, there is a good chance the ticket will be dismissed, although you may need to pay a fine.
How much will you pay for driving without a license if you get pulled over?
The penalty you will pay for driving without a license costs depends on several factors. Factors that impact the fine include:
- The state you are driving in
- Whether your license is suspended or revoked
- Whether it is your first offense of this nature
Fines vary from state to state. For example, you might pay $50 in Wisconsin if you are driving on a suspended license, or up to $25,000 if caught for the second time in Illinois, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, or NCSL.
You can generally expect fines to range up to $1,000 for a first offense. The penalty for a second offense can easily be $2,500 or more.
What is the penalty for driving without a license if you’re under 18?
In most states, the same penalties will apply regardless of your age. If a minor has a valid license and forgot it at home, a traffic ticket and a fine will likely be the penalty.
However, a teen who decides to take a car out for a spin with a suspended or revoked license likely faces steeper penalties. In most states, the first offense is a misdemeanor with a hefty fine.
Many states suspend a license for a certain number of months when a person is caught driving without a license. This penalty will most likely be applied to teens as well, delaying their right to get a license for the same amount of time.
What happens if a 15-year-old gets caught driving without a license?
In most states, a 15-year-old is too young to qualify for a driver’s license. That means a 15-year-old who drives without a license would face the same types of penalties as anyone who drives without a valid license.
As noted above, getting caught in this way also might mean that the teen will have to wait longer than normal before being granted full driving privileges.
What happens if an unlicensed driver drives your car?
Never let an unlicensed driver get behind the wheel of your car. The penalty for doing so can be severe.
Car insurance follows the car, not the driver. So, if an unlicensed friend or family member gets into an accident with your car, it is your insurance that would be responsible for the claim.
If you allowed an unlicensed driver to get behind the wheel, your insurance company has the legal grounds to deny your claim, since insurers generally have rules that state that the driver must have a valid license.
So, you’ll be legally responsible for paying for the other driver’s car, medical bills and legal defense if they decide to sue you.
You can also expect a significant increase in your insurance costs or even policy cancellation, making finding a new policy challenging and expensive.
Can you get a hardship license if your license is suspended?
If your license is suspended, there may be a way to get back on the road with a hardship license, which might be issued when your standard driver’s license has been revoked or suspended.
A hardship license allows you to drive, but only under certain circumstances and for approved reasons, mainly to get back and forth to work.
A hardship license will come with various restrictions depending on your state. In most cases, you can only drive to approved locations, such as work, child care or school, and a few stores for errands. Many states assign a nighttime curfew.
Resources & Methodology
National Conference of State Legislatures. “Driving While Revoked, Suspended or Otherwise Unlicensed: Penalties by State.” Accessed February 2024.