Driving laws in every state require drivers to carry a valid license when operating a motor vehicle. Each state has its own rules for how long a driver’s license remains valid, for renewing a license and for penalizing drivers who operate a motor vehicle with an expired license. Although some states have a grace period before penalties and fines apply, other state laws aren’t as generous. Most often, the repercussions for driving with an expired license increase the longer you wait to renew.
At one end of the spectrum, if you’re caught driving with a recently expired license, you may get off with an oral or written warning instead of a ticket. With a written warning, also known as a “fix-it” ticket, you may need to renew your license and mail proof within a specific time or face a financial penalty. However, depending on state laws and the officer’s discretion, you may suffer the same fate as a driver with a severely expired license.
Common penalties include fines and possibly demerit points. For example, fines in New York range from $25 to $40 for driving with a license that expired within 60 days before the traffic stop and $75 to $300 for driving with a license that expired more than 60 days before. In Wisconsin, in addition to a fine between $200 and $500 and potential jail time for more than one offense, you’ll be assigned three demerit points.
In some states, driving without a valid license can be a criminal offense. For example, Illinois laws say that driving with a license that expired more than one year before the traffic stop is a Class B misdemeanor offense. Although according to Sami Azhari, an Illinois criminal attorney, you most likely won’t face jail time, a Class B misdemeanor does carry the potential for up to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine. In addition, you also face the possibility of having your car towed away and impounded.
At some point, you’ll lose the option to renew. For example, the cutoff point in New York is two years and three years in New Hampshire. To get a new license after this time, you’ll need to pass a vision test, a knowledge test and a road test, just as a beginner driver does.
Driving with an expired license could affect your car insurance rates at renewal time and may even negate an existing policy. For example, if you cause an accident while driving with an expired license, your insurance company could deny coverage because you’re driving illegally.