Chris Tepedino is a feature writer that has written extensively about auto insurance for numerous websites. He has a college degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and has experience reporting, researching investigative pieces, and crafting detailed, data-driven features. His works have been featured on CB Blog Nation, Flow Words, Healing Law, WIBW Kansas, and Cinncinati....

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Apr 3, 2022

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The Full Review

  • Driving without a driver’s license is illegal no matter where you live in the United States 
  • People get caught without their license for many reasons including forgetting it at home, having a suspended license, or not having one at all
  • You could face fines, community service, license suspension, and even jail time if a cop pulls you over and you don’t have your license

It’s easy to forget things, and accidentally leaving your wallet or purse at home is a very common occurrence. But did you know that if a cop pulls you over, and you don’t have your driver’s license on hand, you could still face consequences? Driving without a license happens more than you think, and even if you’re technically licensed, you need to keep it physically with you while driving.

On the other hand, driving while a license is suspended or revoked is a much more serious offense. If you get caught doing this, you could permanently lose your driving privileges or even face time in jail. And if you don’t have a valid license at all, it could mean fines or mandatory community service.

What are the reasons people get caught driving without a license?

There are many reasons that people drive without a license, some more serious than others. Sometimes, you just forget to bring your license with you. It happens, and although it seems like a minor lapse in thought at the moment, it can lead to a traffic ticket and fines. Other times, your license expires, and you can’t find the time to renew it. Even if you’re just going around the corner to pick up milk, be sure to have your valid driver’s license with you.

Forgetting your physical license card or carrying an expired one is one thing, but driving with a suspended or revoked license is another story. This type of offense can lead to more severe consequences and even jail time if the offense is serious enough. Also, some people drive without being licensed at all, either due to never passing the test or some other reason. This is dangerous as well, because an unlicensed driver cannot be insured, which is very illegal in the United States.

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Suspended vs. Revoked: What’s the difference?

There’s a big difference between a suspended and a revoked driver’s license. Here’s a look at the differences:

Suspended

When a license is suspended, you temporarily lose your driving privileges for an extended period of time. Suspended licenses can be a result of too many DMV points on your license, driving without insurance, or getting a DUI. You will get off easier if you don’t know that you have been driving on a suspended license. For example, you might be unaware of the suspension if you haven’t paid for traffic tickets, but the knowledge of committing the act is a much more severe offense. You could face community service, permanent license suspension, hefty fines, and even jail time.

Revoked

Between suspended and revoked licenses, the latter is the more serious of the two. Revoked is when your license is canceled. Once the designated period is passed, you can apply for a new one. There are serious punishments for driving with a revoked license: hefty fines, intended suspension, and even a possibility of time served in prison. It can go from a misdemeanor to a felony very quickly. If you become a “repeat” offender, a simple misdemeanor can become a felony, and you’ll almost certainly face jail time.

Penalties for Driving Without a License

The penalties for driving without a valid license can be costly, so you should take a second to reconsider if you plan on doing so. Depending on what the situation is and what state the act is committed in, the consequences can even mean years in jail. Let’s take a look at the penalties for doing so in Pennsylvania as an example:

  • Driving without your license on your person: You may be required to pay a small fine, but in most cases, the violation can be dismissed if you later show proof of valid driver’s license possession.
  • Driving on a suspended or revoked license: For a first-time offense, you could owe up to $500 in fines and could face 60 to 90 days in jail. If you do this after a DUI charge, and you have alcohol in your system, the fine can be bumped up to $1,000, and you could spend up to 90 days in jail. If this is a second offense, you’ll be charged with a third-degree misdemeanor and up to $2,500 in fines and jail time up to six months. If it’s a third offense, you could owe fines up to $5,000 and face up to two years in prison.
  • Driving without having a valid license: If you don’t have a license at all, then driving is a big no-no. In the United States, you are required to be fully insured in order to drive, and you can’t get insurance without a license, so any time you drive you’ll be illegally doing so. You will have to pay a $200 fine and could have your eligibility to apply for a license suspended.

In all these scenarios, there’s a possibility of having your car impounded. Car impoundment is the legal process in which a car is taken and placed in an impound until the owner of the vehicle pays fines and tickets, the vehicle is auctioned off, or is recycled.

Will my insurance rates rise if I’m caught without a driver’s license?

It depends on the situation. If you forget your license at home, you are still insured and can show proof of insurance, so your premium will not go up. But, if you get caught by the police driving on a suspended or revoked license, be aware that your rates will increase exponentially. Your insurance will consider you a high-risk driver, which automatically means you will see a rise in rates. If your license is suspended for a certain time, your insurance company might even drop you completely. This will make applying to a new policy a painful process full of high premiums.

You might even have to get a special insurance policy called an SR-22. It’s designed for someone who had their driving privileges taken away. This costs extra and, on top of fines, legal fees, and paying for other methods of transportation, makes driving without a license not worth the risk.

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You Might Have to pay Expensive Legal Fees

Most of the penalties given for traffic law violations can be handled without the help of a lawyer. However, suspended and revoked licenses and jail time are more serious, and you might want to talk to a professional, especially if you’re trying to fight the charges. This can quickly become an expensive process that requires a lot of time and money.

What happens if you get caught driving without a license?

In the end, before you drive without a license, whatever the reason may be, you should know the consequences. Things can get complicated quickly, and the penalties can be steep. You could be liable for fines up to $25,000, and that’s if you only get caught driving without a license. If you get into an accident, and you have no license, that is a whole other story with much more severe legal ramifications.