The punishment for a minor who is caught driving without a license depends on the laws of the state where the defendant drove. For violations related to driving, a minor is defined as a person under 18 years old. Usually driving without a license is considered a misdemeanor, which is less serious than a felony. A misdemeanor charge for driving without a license often carries a sentence of a fine and a jail sentence of up to six months. Sometimes driving without a license is charged as an infraction, which is not a criminal offense and usually only involves a fine.
Unlicensed Driver Penalties in California and Florida
In California, driving without a valid driver’s license is known as a wobbler, an offense that can be charged either as a misdemeanor or an infraction. The penalty for a misdemeanor charge of driving without a valid driver’s license is up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000. The penalty for an infraction for driving without a valid driver’s license is a fine up to $250.
In Florida, driving without a valid driver’s license is a second-degree misdemeanor. The penalty is up to 60 days in jail and a fine up to $500.
Reasons Behind Charging the Driver
A prosecutor may charge a driver with an infraction if they do not have their driver’s license on them while they are driving. A driver who lost their driver’s license may fall into this category. With luck, a defendant may be able to have the charge dismissed once they show that they have a valid driver’s license. The defendant may still have to pay a fine and fees associated with their court appearance.
A prosecutor may charge a driver with a misdemeanor if the defendant is a new California resident who failed to get a new driver’s license within 10 days of arriving in the state. The prosecutor may also charge the offense as a misdemeanor if the defendant never applied for a driver’s license or chose not to renew their expired license. A defendant who does not have a driver’s license should apply for one immediately, even if they are arrested for the offense of not having one. The court looks more favorably upon a defendant when the individual works to abide by the law.
Driving With a Suspended License
A defendant who is driving with a license that has been suspended or revoked will not be charged with driving without a license. Instead, they will be charged with driving on a suspended or revoked license. The penalties for this charge differ among states. The penalties increase if the defendant repeats the crime. In California, penalties for the first offense of driving with a suspended license include between five days and six months in jail and a fine between $300 and $1,000. Penalties for the second offense within five years include between 10 days and one year in jail and a fine between $500 and $2,000.
In Florida, penalties for the first offense of driving with a suspended license include being charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, up to 60 days in jail and a fine up to $500. Penalties for the second offense of driving with a suspended license include being charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, up to 12 months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
Penalties for a First Drunk Driving Infraction
Across the U.S., one indication of driving under the influence (DUI) is driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above. When a person under 18 drives a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license and commits a DUI, they can be charged with two offenses, driving without a valid driver’s license and the DUI. The penalties for a first-time DUI are less severe than for a second or third DUI. The penalties for a first offense vary between states.
In California, the penalties for a first DUI include up to six months in jail, a fine up to $1,000, six months driver’s license suspension and six months installation of an ignition interlock device (IID). An offender may also be required to attend DUI school, serve informal probation, the type of probation that does not involve reporting to a probation officer and attend a victim impact panel. In Florida, the penalties for a first DUI include up to six months in jail, a fine up to $1,000, six months driver’s license suspension and six months IID installation.
Higher Penalties for Higher BAC
In some states, a driver may face higher penalties for a first DUI if their BAC was above a certain level. Pennsylvania has three penalties for a first DUI, depending on the defendant’s blood alcohol concentration. The penalties for a first DUI with a BAC between 0.08 and 0.099 percent include a $300 fine, up to six months probation, alcohol highway safety school and treatment when ordered.
The penalties for a first DUI with a high BAC, defined as a BAC between 0.10 and 0.159 percent, include a 12-month license suspension, between 48 hours and six months in jail, a fine between $500 and $5,000, alcohol highway safety school and treatment when ordered.
The penalties for a first DUI with highest BAC of 0.16 percent or above include a 12 month license suspension, between 72 hours and six months of jail time, a fine between $1,000 and $5,000, alcohol highway safety school and treatment when ordered.
Penalties for Zero Tolerance Law
A person under 21 who is driving and has consumed alcohol may be in violation of their state’s zero tolerance law. This law states that a person under 21 shall not drink any amount of alcohol and drive. In California, an individual can be charged with a violation of the zero tolerance law if their BAC is between 0.01 and 0.049 percent. The penalty for a zero tolerance violation differs by state.
In California, the penalty is a 12-month driver’s license suspension. In Florida, an individual can be charged with a violation of that state's zero tolerance law if their BAC is 0.02 percent or above. Florida’s penalty for violating the zero tolerance law is a six-month driver’s license suspension for a first violation and 12 months for a second or subsequent offense.
Penalties for Underage DUI
A person under 21 who is driving and has a BAC below 0.08 percent but above the zero tolerance law limit may be in violation of their state’s underage DUI law. This law states that a person under 21 shall not drink alcohol past a certain extent and drive. The penalty for an underage DUI differs by state. In California, a driver under 21 can be charged with an underage DUI if their BAC is between 0.05 and 0.079 percent. California’s penalties for an underage DUI include 12 months driver’s license suspension, a $100 fine and attendance at an alcohol education program.
Steps for Teens Getting Licensed
Teens go through a series of steps to receive a full, unrestricted driver’s license. Generally, a person under 18 must have their application for a driver’s license or any change of driver’s license class signed by their parents or legal guardians. If both parents or guardians have joint custody, both of them must sign the teen’s application.
A teen driving without the necessary paperwork or at hours or under conditions that violate state law may face penalties, including fines. In California, if the teen commits a negligent or wrongful act while driving and causes damages, a parent or guardian may be held liable for the damage the teen caused. The steps for a teen to get licensed varies by state.
Florida Graduated Licensing
For example, Florida has three steps: a learner’s permit, a provisional license and an unrestricted license. At age 15, a teen is eligible for a learner’s permit. A permit holder may only drive during the day with a licensed driver 21 years or older. After three months of holding a learner’s permit, the teen may drive until 10 p.m. A permit holder must accumulate at least 50 hours of parental or guardian certified driving. Ten of these hours must be at night.
In Florida, at age 16, a driver who has held a learner’s permit for at least 12 months without a traffic violation conviction can qualify for an intermediate license. An intermediate license holder who is age 16 cannot drive unsupervised between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. When the intermediate license holder turns 17, they may not drive unsupervised between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. At age 18, a teen is eligible for an unrestricted license.
California Graduated Licensing
California allows minors to obtain a learner’s permit at age 15 ½. A teen may only drive when they are supervised by a parent, guardian or licensed driver at least 25 years old. A teen between 15 ½ and 17 ½ must be enrolled in or have passed a driver education course to be eligible for a learner’s permit.
A driver of 15 ½ must hold a learner’s permit for at least six months and accumulate at least 50 hours of parental or guardian certified driving experience. Ten of these hours must be at night. A teen must also complete six hours of professional driver training.
In California, at age 16, a driver can get an intermediate license. During their first year, a 16-year-old driver may not drive from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. The driver may not transport any passengers under 20 unless they are supervised by a driver at least 25 years of age. At age 17, a driver is eligible for an unrestricted license. In Minnesota, a violation of the teen driving restrictions is a misdemeanor.
Additional Restrictions for Teens
A teen driver may be required to abide by certain restrictions to hold a learner’s permit, intermediate or provisional license or a full driver’s license. In Florida, a teen cannot receive a moving violation conviction within one year from the issuance of their learner’s license. If they receive a moving traffic conviction, the one-year period that they are required to hold their learner’s license will be extended from one year from the date of the conviction or until they are 18, whichever occurs first.
A Florida driver under 18 who is not complying with school attendance rules can have their driving privileges suspended. Alternatively, the minor may be ineligible to obtain a license until they provide proof they have attended school for 30 consecutive days. A minor who receives six or more points within 12 months will see an automatic restriction of their driver’s license to Business Purposes Only for one year or until they turn 18, whichever occurs first.
If the driver receives additional points during the restricted period, the restriction is extended 90 days for each additional point. A minor convicted for possession of tobacco or nicotine products will see a revocation of their learner’s license for a minimum of 30 days.
- California Vehicle Code Section 12500(a) Persons Required to Be Licensed
- California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) Offenses Involving Alcohol and Drugs
- California Vehicle Code Section 14601 Violation of License Provisions
- California Department of Motor Vehicles: California Driver Handbook, Special Section - Minors
- 2020 Florida Statutes: Section 322.03 Drivers Must Be Licensed; Penalties
- California Vehicle Code Section 23136 Offenses by Persons Under 21 Years of Age Involving Alcohol
- 2020 Florida Statutes: Section 316.193 Driving Under the Influence; Penalties
- Pennsylvania DMV: 0.08 DUI Legislation
- 2020 Florida Statutes: Section 322.2616 Suspension of License; Persons Under 21 Years of Age; Right to Review
- Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles: Traffic Laws for Florida Teens
- California Vehicle Code Section 12951
- 2020 Florida Statutes: 322.34 Driving While License Suspended, Revoked, Canceled or Disqualified
- California Vehicle Code Section 23140 Signature and Display of Licenses
- California Vehicle Code 17707 Civil Liability of Persons Signing License Applications of Minors
- National Highway Safety Traffic Administration: Teen Driving
- Minnesota Department of Public Safety: FAQ, Answers to Common Teen Driving Questions
- 2020 Florida Statutes: 322.161 High-risk Drivers; Restricted Licenses
- 2020 Florida Statutes: 322.091 Attendance Requirements
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.