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Updated August 10, 2022
Across every state of the United States, driving without a valid driver’s license is absolutely illegal. Whether you’re just making a quick trip to the grocery store or making a longer drive, getting caught operating a vehicle without a valid form of identification can lead to suspension, fines, and even jail time. Don’t let a moment of bad judgment cost you loads of time and money.
Racking up violations can add up in tickets, legal fees, and higher monthly premiums. The good news is that you can save on your car insurance policy by shopping around from hundreds of companies in the insurance market to get the best deal.
Not having your physical license with you is different from not having a license at all. Either way, always have your ID if you get behind the wheel.
Driving without a license doesn’t just refer to not having one at all. It can also mean having a revoked, expired, or suspended license.
The consequences of driving without a valid license range from community service to a traffic ticket to impoundment to even a jail sentence.
What happens if you get caught driving without a license?
Is it bad to drive without a license?
If you’re caught operating a vehicle without a valid license you could face hefty fines and even jail time. Never drive without a license.
Getting behind the wheel without a license—either a physical copy or one at all—is never worth the risk of getting caught and having to deal with the consequences. Especially in the case that you have a revoked license due to a serious offense, like a DUI (driving under the influence), it’s more likely that you’ll face more severe punishment if you decide to drive.
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It can end up costing you thousands of dollars
Even if you’re a first-time offender, you could find yourself paying fines from $150 to $10,000. Every driving violation has its consequences, and this one could cost you an amount comparable to college tuition. Choosing to get in the driver’s seat just to run a quick errand can really add up in costs, especially if your license has already been revoked.
Some offenders don’t get off the hook as easily as simply paying a ticket. On top of paying fines, you’re likely to see your car insurance premium spike because of a violation on your driving record. You might also rack up costs in legal, vehicle impounding, and license reinstatement fees. These costs multiply and go up the more you commit the offense.
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You risk adding a misdemeanor or a felony to your record
Like running a red light or forgetting to pay the parking meter, driving without a license may seem like a minor traffic offense, but it can have some serious consequences. Some cases are treated as infractions, which are relatively minor. Other cases might not be as lucky and can get labeled as misdemeanors, a more serious traffic violation that can even lead to jail time.
In most cases, driving without a license results in a misdemeanor. Each state has its own laws, and depending on your state, you risk a fine, license suspension, jail, or maybe a combination of all three. However, in the worst-case scenario, you risk getting charged with a felony. This is usually highly unlikely but can happen if you committed the offense multiple times.
Lawyers or a professional legal team might have to get involved
No matter if it’s your first offense or a repeated one, driving without a license is committing a serious driving infraction. Seeking legal advice might start with a free case evaluation, but finding a solid criminal defense lawyer from a reputable law firm to defend you in court can really cost you. If it’s your second offense or worse, expenses can quickly escalate.
A lapse in judgment, like driving to the grocery store as a suspended driver, could cost you a criminal defense attorney to lessen the penalties and charges caused by a five-minute drive. Note, though, that being a repeat offender puts you more at risk of having to face a more severe maximum penalty that likely warrants legal representation in court.
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You risk getting your license suspended for even longer
Getting another license charge on top of a pre-existing one can have serious consequences. As long as you’re in charge of driving decisions and continue to get behind the wheel without a license, don’t risk making matters worse by lengthening the amount of time you have to go unlicensed.
A disclaimer: These consequences are usually for repeat offenders. For example, a second offense in Colorado means that you cannot be issued a driver’s license for another three years. A third offense in North Carolina might result in your license being permanently suspended. Imagine never being able to drive ever again, just because you decided to drive unlicensed.
You might lose your car (or motorcycle) to the impoundment lot
On top of losing your driving privileges, you could also lose your vehicle. Law enforcement can take this traffic violation really seriously, depending on if you’re a repeat offender, or relatively mildly, maybe if this is the first time you’ve been caught driving on an expired license. In some states, driving unlicensed could mean immediate vehicle impoundment. That’s more money lost.
Vehicle impoundment is the process of legally taking a vehicle and placing it into a lot, like a tow yard. Police officers can then hold it for a period of time until the owner comes and claims it, usually after paying fees or acknowledging the violation. If neglected, vehicles can be recycled for metal, stripped of their parts, or auctioned off.
Your vehicle registration can be revoked and you’ll have to re-register
After your vehicle is impounded, you likely will pick it up from the lot. (Otherwise, you risk losing your vehicle entirely to become scrap metal or sold to benefit the impoundment lot.) If you’re able to get your car back, it might seem like a victory…Until you realize that your motor vehicle registration may have also been suspended.
If you lose your vehicle registration to impoundment, also known as “revocation” by the department of motor vehicles (DMV), that means you have to register your vehicle again. Re-registering results in expenses of anywhere from $10 to $300. Sometimes, you can’t even register your vehicle without a license, but having auto insurance can help.
Your car insurance rates will go up
Having a clean driving record is one of the easiest and most effective ways to get a good deal on your car insurance policy. Violations, collisions, and accidents all cause rates to spike, and a criminal offense certainly won’t help.
If you don’t have a license and need car insurance, Insurify can help you find a cheap policy. Usually, just having a policy can end up saving you money! (You can even register a car without a license; however, you typically need to have an insurance policy to do so. Having a policy has its pros!)
It might seem counterintuitive to buy auto insurance if you don’t have a license and, therefore, can’t drive, but there are some specific situations where an unlicensed driver could benefit from having proof of insurance. Having car insurance coverage can help protect their vehicle and others, save them money on monthly premiums, or be useful if they need to re-register their car.
You may have to pay extra for a special insurance policy
If you choose to buy car insurance while having a suspended license, you will need to get a special type of policy specifically designed for someone who has had their driving privileges taken away. This is called SR-22 insurance. The DMV might require you to enroll in this type of policy if you have a driving record with a DUI or DWI, traffic violations, or other claims.
The DMV may also ask drivers with suspended licenses to provide an SR-22 form, otherwise known as a Certificate of Financial Responsibility. This shows valid proof that you have already bought the insurance coverage required by the state for your driving privileges to be reinstated and exhibits responsibility. Another option is to consider just getting a restricted license instead.
One way to keep costs low is by comparing insurance providers and quotes for SR-22 insurance in each state. Do some research to find cheap rates before you commit to one since getting caught driving without a license already racks up expenses in other areas like legal fees and fines.
Frequently Asked Questions
In the worst-case scenario, unlicensed drivers can face jail time, which is more likely if it’s a repeated offense. Usually, though, it’s treated as a less severe traffic infraction or misdemeanor. Either way, these charges stay on your driving record and can affect your car insurance costs.
No, the consequences of getting caught driving without a license will not be the same in your home state as across the country. Each state treats the traffic violation differently, and the punishment will also likely vary depending on how many times you’ve committed the offense.
It’s not typical that breaking the law will somehow benefit you. However, having a car insurance policy can help you if you need to re-register your car at the DMV after it has been impounded, rather than keeping it at the lot.
Insurify has you covered. Getting caught driving unlicensed can rack up fees from tickets, re-registering your vehicle, legal services, and more. Don’t let a higher insurance premium be another cost. We do the work to help you compare affordable quotes, all for free.
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Data scientists at Insurify analyzed over 40 million auto insurance rates across the United States to compile the car insurance quotes, statistics, and data visualizations displayed on this page. The car insurance data includes coverage analysis and details on drivers' vehicles, driving records, and demographic information. With these insights, Insurify is able to offer drivers insight into how their car insurance premiums are priced by companies.