What Happens If You Drive Without a License?

By Sarah Brumley ; Updated June 16, 2017
MIxed race girl driving a car

If you're caught driving without a license, your problems may range from an inconvenient visit to court on up to heavy fines and even jail time. It depends on whether your license is misplaced or expired, suspended or revoked -- or whether you never had one at all.

Forgotten License

If you forget to bring your license and a police officer pulls you over, you'll probably get a ticket, but in many states the ticket will be dismissed when you go to court with proof that you had a valid license at the time you were stopped. In Pennsylvania, for example, you have 15 days to so. You also may pay a fine. Driving without any license at all is a much bigger deal, with penalties that parallel those for driving with a suspended license. New Jersey, for instance, will fine you $200 to $500 and may jail you as well.

Expired License

If your license has expired recently, or if you just moved from out of state and missed the deadline for getting a license for your new home state, you typically will be ticketed and pay a fine. In Washington, for instance, you'll be fined $50 if you get your license renewed promptly. Otherwise, you'll pay $250. That's if you're lucky -- if you get in an accident, your insurer may refuse to pay your costs because you were driving illegally. You can plan on paying higher premiums in the future, too, just as you would for speeding tickets.

Unlicensed Minor

Teens in graduated licensing programs may be pulled over for more reasons, depending on the state, than adults with full driving privileges. If you're pulled over because you're using a cell phone -- banned for new drivers in most states -- the police will find out that you don't have a license. Don't expect a break on penalties if you're a minor. State laws spell out minimum penalties for traffic violations. What they don't spell out is different penalties for minors and adults.

No License or Suspended License

In practice, the longer you drive license-free and the more times you're caught, the higher the penalties you will face. Nevertheless, the law spells out the same penalties for driving without a license as it does for driving on a suspended or revoked license. In all 50 states, you are guilty of a misdemeanor. Your car may be impounded on the spot. You could be arrested. Fines are certain. Even jail time is possible. Arizona, Idaho and Georgia, for instance, require two days' incarceration, and some states allow jail terms of up to a year or more.

About the Author

Sarah Brumley has written extensively on business and health-industry topics since 1995. Her work has appeared in publications ranging from Funk & Wagnall's yearbooks to "Medical Economics," a magazine for physicians. She holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.