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.
It turns out that there is a good reason to keep unlicensed drivers off the road – they are much more dangerous than licensed drivers. According to the NHTSA, 19% of motor vehicle fatalities involved drivers with invalid licenses. Furthermore, drivers with invalid licenses comprise 13% of all drivers in fatal crashes.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about driving without a license, the punishment for driving without a license in your state and how it will affect your auto insurance.
- Driving without a driver’s license or a suspended or revoked license is illegal in all 50 states.
- Penalties for driving with a suspended or revoked license vary by state.
- Depending on your state, driving with a suspended or revoked license usually results in a heavy fine of up to $25,000.
- Is it illegal to drive without a driver’s license?
- What happens if you get pulled over without a license?
- What’s the difference between a suspended license and a revoked license?
- Can you get car insurance without a license?
- Can insurance companies tell if your license has been suspended?
- Will you pay a higher insurance premium after driving with a suspended license?
- Frequently asked questions: Suspended licenses and revoked licenses
- Resources & Methodology
Is it illegal to drive without a driver’s license?
Driving without a driver’s license or a suspended or revoked license is illegal in all 50 states. In most states, the first offense is a misdemeanor. If you get a second offense, it can be a felony.
The penalty for driving with a suspended license first offense can range from a license suspension for two months on the low end up to a year. You won’t be driving for one or two years if it’s a second offense. There is also a good chance your vehicle will be impounded, or your license plate confiscated.
Jail time (up to five years) is possible for anything other than a first offense, as is community service. Furthermore, your driving record will now have a misdemeanor listed on it.
If you have never had a license, the penalties will likely be less severe, but it is still a misdemeanor.
What happens if you get pulled over without a license?
The penalty for driving without a license will vary depending on a variety of factors including what state you live in, whether you were driving with an expired license, whether your license was suspended or revoked and whether it was a first offense. In most cases, drivers face hefty fees that can easily 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 but in most cases, driving with a revoked license is the more serious offense. Here’s 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. In some states, the suspension ends automatically, and your license is reinstated. In other states, you may have to apply to your DMV to have the suspension lifted.
There can be factors that lessen the severity of driving on a suspended license; one of these is 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 – usually because of unpaid traffic tickets.
“I would say that the vast majority of drivers charged with this crime are surprised to learn their license is suspended, and all of them are shocked to learn of its consequences,” says Derek Andrews with Phelan & Danek in Albany, NY.
Every state law is different in how it deals with driving on a suspended or revoked license. While Florida may give you the benefit of the doubt that you were unaware of the suspended status of your license, not every state will extend that courtesy.
On the other hand, if you know your license is suspended and decide to drive, the penalties become exponentially steeper.
What if your license is revoked?
This is the more serious of the two infractions. It means that your license has been canceled, which usually is because of a serious infraction, such as a DUI.
The penalty for driving with a suspended or revoked license varies by state, but in most cases, a hefty fine is involved, ranging up to $25,000. Your suspension time will be increased and you’ll 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 may be looking at a felony and will probably 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?
The answer to this question is 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 an underaged driver 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 and if they are driving your car, you will need that car to be insured.
A primary driver can be anyone that is licensed and will be driving your car regularly. It can be a spouse, teenager, roommate or caretaker. However, the 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. Then, if you decide to drive, you will have no coverage and will be responsible for any damage to your car and other people and their vehicles in case of a crash.
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. You can still apply for coverage if you don’t have a policy and your license is suspended. But you will 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, say, 30 days, compared to a year. Once your driving privileges are restored, you must show proof of reinstatement to your insurer.
If you have a long-term suspension, you can find a car insurance company allowing you to buy a policy with another person named as the primary driver. You would not be listed on the policy until you get your license back.
Insurance companies must send you a notice informing you that your coverage is to be suspended at some future date, typically at least 30 days out.
Learn more: Can I get a license in another state if my license is suspended?
Can insurance companies tell if your license has been suspended?
Insurance companies are not customarily notified if your license is suspended. Insurers pull your driver history from the DMV, and they have to pay for that record so insurers don’t necessarily pull it at every renewal period if you’ve had a clean record for years.
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; it’s your job as the one needing it.
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.
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.
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, expect your insurer to 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 hate to see a coverage gap.
Frequently asked questions: Suspended licenses and revoked licenses
Can you drive without a license in your possession?
The penalty for driving without a license or expired 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?
How much driving without a license costs depends on several factors. The state you are driving in, whether your license is suspended or revoked and if it is the first offense will all impact the fine if you get pulled over for driving without a license.
Fines can range from $50 in Wisconsin if you are driving on a suspended license up to $25,000 if caught for the second time in Illinois, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures or NCSL.
While it varies by state, 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, they will look at a much more significant penalty if they decide to take a car out for a spin with a suspended or revoked license. 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 a teen as well, delaying their right to get a license for the same amount of time.
What happens if an unlicensed driver drives your car?
Never let an unlicensed driver get behind the wheel of your car. The penalty for letting an unlicensed driver drive your car can be severe. Car insurance follows the car, so if an unlicensed friend or family member gets into an accident with your car, your insurance policy must pay.
Unfortunately, since an unlicensed driver was behind the wheel, your insurance company has the legal grounds to deny your claim since most policies have a clause that states 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. In some states, you can be charged if you knowingly allow someone without a valid license to drive your vehicle resulting in jail time, hefty fines and car impoundment.
You can also expect a dramatic increase in your insurance costs or policy cancellation, making finding a new one 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, issued when your standard driver’s license has been revoked or suspended. It 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, usually work, daycare or school, and a few stores for errands. Many states assign a nighttime curfew.
Getting caught driving after hours or for unapproved reasons will revoke your hardship license. Depending on state laws, you may not even get a second chance. Most states don’t offer second chances.
Resources & Methodology
National Conference of State Legislatures. “Driving While Revoked, Suspended or Otherwise Unlicensed: Penalties by State.” Accessed January 2023.
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Unlicensed to Kill.” Accessed January 2023.
U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Traffic Safety Facts: Driver License Compliance Status in Fatal Crashes.” Accessed January 2023.
“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”, advises Sa El.