Driving without a license in any state is a serious offense, and the state of Florida is no exception. In some instances, a driver may forget to carry their license and face a small fine. In others, they may attempt to drive on a suspended or revoked license and face a misdemeanor, or felony charge if they are a habitual traffic offender. Penalties for operating a vehicle without a valid Florida driver's license include fines and possible jail time. The offense can remain on the driver's record for several years.
Obtaining a Driver's License
Florida does not see driving as a right, but a privilege, which means not everyone can get a license. Potential drivers who meet certain circumstances are not eligible if they:
- Have a license revocation or suspension in any state.
- Have an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
- Cannot drive safely due to a mental or physical issue, with the exception of deafness.
- Are under the legal age for getting a license (15 years of age for a learner's permit and 16 for a Class D or E license).
Drivers must keep their licenses safe and those who break the law can have them suspended, revoked or canceled. A person can drive a motor vehicle with a valid license – this is an "operator's license" issued by the state authorizing an individual to drive on public thoroughfares.
License Exemptions in Florida
According to Florida 2020 Statutes Section 322.04, several classifications of people do not need to get a driver's license. They are:
- Tractor, road machines and farm-related machinery operators.
- Out-of-state residents at least 16 years old who have a valid noncommercial license and operate a motor vehicle requiring a Class E license.
- Out-of-state residents at least 18 years old who have a valid noncommercial license in their possession and drive a noncommercial vehicle.
- Golf cart operators.
Additionally, those working for the federal government who reside in another state and whose main employment is also in another state may operate a noncommercial vehicle on public roadways for up 60 days if their license is valid in their home state. Those who operate noncommercial vehicles owned or leased by the federal government on official business also do not need a Florida license.
License Suspensions and Revocations
A driver's license suspension occurs in Florida when the driver:
- Included fraudulent information on their license application.
- Cannot drive safely.
- Used their car and license for an illegal purpose.
- Has a traffic court conviction that states license suspension as a penalty.
- Refuses to take a test to show impairment when stopped by a law enforcement officer.
- Has a restricted license and has misused it.
- Has a certain number of points on their driving record for traffic offenses.
- Fails to pay the penalty or appear in court after breaking the law.
When Florida revokes a driver's license, it can do so for a period of six months to life. This amount of time (and the possibility of reapplying for a license) depends on the reasons for the revocation of driving privileges, such as convictions for:
- Driving while impaired by drugs, alcohol or other controlled substances (DWI/DUI).
- Committing a felony with a motor vehicle.
- Refusing to stop and help when involved in an accident that causes injury or death.
- Lying about a motor vehicle's ownership or operation.
- Having three reckless driving cases in one year. (A driver who forfeits bail and avoids a conviction of reckless driving counts has an actual conviction).
- Committing an immoral act while using a motor vehicle.
- Having three major offenses or 15 offenses for which the driver gets points on their record within a period of five years.
- Having a drug possession felony.
- Having poorer vision than the state standard minimum requirements.
- Having a court order for revocation based on other traffic violations.
- Killing someone with a motor vehicle. The driver faces a three-year minimum revocation for this infraction.
Penalties for Driving Without a License
Everyone who operates a motor vehicle in Florida must have their valid driver's license on them at all times and display it if requested by a police officer. Those who don't have a license on them when an officer asks, may get a driving-without-a-license citation, but this may not result in a conviction. This citation gives a driver some time to produce the license to the court clerk. In turn, the clerk will dismiss the citation and collect a $10 dismissal fee. If there isn't a dismissal, the driver faces a fine of $30.
It is a misdemeanor to drive with no valid license in Florida. If convicted, a driver may face a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail. However, if the driver is eligible to get a license and resolve the infraction, they'll only pay a $25 court fee. This is only an option for those who have not had another citation resolved in this manner in the past year.
Penalties for Suspended or Revoked License
Those who operate a vehicle on a suspended or revoked license face even stiffer penalties that get more severe with each infraction. These include fines, jail and even vehicle impoundment. The penalties are:
- First offense: A maximum of 60 days in jail and $500 fine.
- Second offense: A maximum of one year in jail, a $1,000 fine, and vehicle impoundment.
- Third and subsequent offenses: This is a felony with a maximum five-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine.
If the driver has three offenses within a five year period, the state will deem them a habitual violator. This will result in a license revocation of five years and increased prison time and fines.
Sometimes, a driver can have their license suspended and not know it. This is a separate offense in Florida, which carries different penalties than knowingly driving on a suspended license. If a person drives without knowledge of their license suspension, they face only a moving violation, which carries a $60 penalty.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.