DON’T BE NAUGHTY! THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DRIVE WITHOUT A LICENSE OR INSURANCE IN CALIFORNIA.
Posted on September 20, 2022
Is it Considered a Crime to Drive Without a License in California?
A driver’s license is a document which serves to certify that the owner of that license has proven that they are capable of safely operating a motor vehicle. A driver’s license also notifies law enforcement personnel that an individual has been considered competent and able to drive in public.
An individual’s driver’s license may also contain certain restrictions, including whether an individual requires corrective lenses to drive. It also contains other information, such as whether an individual is an organ donor.
Driving without a license is illegal under California law. If an individual drives without a valid driver’s license, it is considered to be a criminal offense instead of just a simple traffic violation.
The California Vehicle Code Section 12500(a) provides, “[a] person may not drive a motor vehicle…unless the person then holds a valid driver’s license issued under this code, except those persons who are expressly exempted under this code.” It is important to note that the individual’s driver’s license does not have to be issued by the State of California, as long as the license is valid for the type of vehicle that the individual is driving.
In every state in the United States, operating a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license is illegal and may lead to strict punishments. In California, driving without a license is considered a misdemeanor.
Driving without a valid driver’s license, however, is typically a wobbler offense. This means that the first offense is typically a non-criminal infraction and any subsequent infractions are likely to be charged as misdemeanors.
An individual may receive a ticket for driving without a license and face one of more of the following penalties:
- Criminal fines of up to $250 for the first infraction and up to $1,000 in criminal fines for subsequent offenses;
- Possible jail time of up to six months, to be served in a county jail;
- Probation; and
- The towing and impounding of the vehicle that was being operated by the unlicensed driver.
- What if I had a Valid Driver’s License but it was not in my Possession?
- How is Driving with a Suspended or Revoked License Different?
- Do I Need an Attorney if I am Facing Driving without a License Charges?
Even if an individual does so by mistake, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle without proof of a valid license. The consequences an individual may face for driving without proof of a valid driver’s license are typically less harsh than other types of driver’s license violations.
It is important to note, however, that although driving without proof of a driver’s license carries lesser consequences, it should not be taken lightly. In many cases, if it occurs enough times, an individual may accrue enough points on their driver’s license that it will be revoked.
If an individual holds a valid driver’s license but they refuse to show it to law enforcement, they will be cited under California Vehicle Code 12951(b). This section of the California Vehicle Code provides that an individual will likely be charged with a criminal misdemeanor, which may include:
- Jail time of up to six months;
- Criminal fines of up to $1,000, or
It is important during any moving violation for an individual to provide proof of a valid driver’s license. It is, however, important to note that the California Vehicle Code punishes an individual who operates a motor vehicle without a valid license but does not punish individuals who drive without a license in their possession at the time of the violation.
In other words, if an individual possesses a valid driver’s license but does not have it in their possession when they are pulled over by law enforcement, it is considered to be a different violation. The most common example of this occurring is when an individual forgets their wallet at home and they do not realize they do not have their driver’s license with them until they are pulled over by law enforcement for a traffic violation.
Operating a motor vehicle without a valid license in an individual’s possession is listed under California Vehicle Code 12951(a). The charges will be dismissed if the individual can prove that they were validly licensed at the time they were pulled over.
The penalties under this code section for this particular infraction include only a fine of up to $250 and the charges being dismissed if sufficient proof is shown. It is important to note, however, that the charges may not be dismissed if the infraction occurs three or more times.
How is Driving with a Suspended or Revoked License Different?
According to the California Vehicle Code 14601, it is a crime to operate a motor vehicle when an individual is aware of the fact that their driver’s license has been suspended or revoked. If an individual operates a motor vehicle with a suspended or revoked license, it is punishable under Section s 14601-14611 of the California Vehicle Code and carries a misdemeanor charge.
Driving with a suspended or revoked license is an entirely different offense than driving without a valid license in the State of California. The penalties for driving with a suspended or revoked license may be more severe than those for driving without a license, depending upon the reason why the individual’s license was initially suspended or revoked.
Examples of penalties for driving with a suspended license may include:
- For the individual’s first offense:
- a probation sentence of up to three years;
- a sentence of five days to six months to be served in county jail; and
- fines of $300 up to $1,000; or
- For the individual’s second offense:
- a probation sentence of up to three years;
- a sentence of ten days to one year to be served in county jail; and
- fines of $500 up to $2,000.
It is important to note that the previously discussed penalties will most likely vary depending upon why the individual’s license was initially revoked or suspended. For example, if an individual’s license was suspended due to driving under the influenceof alcohol or drugs, the penalties will be more severe than if their license was suspended or revoked because they refused to submit to a chemical test, or for negligent driving.
If an individual drives with an expired driver’s license, it will typically be seen as an intentional violation of the law, as the individual is intentionally violating the law by knowingly operating their motor vehicle. Because of this, driving with an expired driver’s license will likely be penalized similarly to driving without a valid driver’s license.
Examples of when driving without a license will be considered an intentional violation of the law may include:
- Driving with a suspended license;
- Driving with a revoked license;
- Driving with an expired license;
- Operating a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license and while being under the legal driving age which is the age of 16 in most states;
- Failing to apply for or to renew a driver license; and
- Driving with an invalid license for another reason.
It is crucial to have the assistance of a California traffic violation lawyer if you are facing any charges related to operating a motor vehicle without a license in California. Your attorney can review your situation and provide legal advice regarding the charges and possible punishments, determine if any defenses are available in your case, and represent you in court.
Penalties for Driving Without Insurance in California
When you’re driving in California, you’ll need to carry either proof of liability insurance or an accepted alternative. Getting caught without valid insurance in California could result in a number of penalties. Depending on the situation — for example, you were in a car accident or were pulled over for a traffic violation — the penalties vary. The state may charge you a fine of $1,000, impound your vehicle or even suspend your driving privileges for up to four years if you’re a repeat offender. And the cost of your auto insurance could dramatically increase.
- Penalties for driving without insurance
- Getting auto insurance after a lapse in coverage
- Penalties for driving without insurance in an accident
- Appealing your fine
Penalties for driving without insurance
When a police officer pulls you over for a traffic violation in California, they can ask you to present your driver’s license, California vehicle registration and evidence of financial responsibility. That can come in the form of:
- Proof of liability insurance with limits of $5,000 for property damage, $15,000 for injury to each person and $30,000 per incident.
- An alternative proof of financial responsibility, such as a money deposit with the state treasurer.
Failure to present valid proof of insurance that meets the state requirements could result in a large fine — even if you’ve simply forgotten to carry your insurance card. However, you may appeal for a reduced fine in court.
Penalties for the first offense
First-time offenders will need to pay a fine between $100 and $200 plus penalty assessment fees, which are currently $26 for every $10 of the base fine amount.
For a fine of $100, you’ll pay a penalty assessment of $260 for a total of $360. The court may also impound your vehicle.
Penalties for the second offense
For a second offense, fines increase to $200–$500 and penalty assessments rise to $520–$1,300.
On a $500 fine, you’d ultimately pay between $1,020 and $1,800. That’s almost as much as the average annual cost of car insurance in California, which is $1,962.
Getting auto insurance after a lapse in coverage
Once you’ve received a ticket for driving without insurance, you’ll pay more for car insurance because you’re considered a higher-risk driver. We recommend working with an insurer that specializes in policies for people with spotty driving records.
Penalties for driving without insurance in an accident
Most car accidents must be reported, and both drivers will need to present evidence of financial responsibility to the department of motor vehicles. You’ll need to do this if the collision resulted in property damage that exceeds $750, or if it involves injuries or death.
If you can’t show proof of car insurance after an accident, the state will suspend your license for one year — in addition to charging the fine — and your car may be impounded until you pay any towing and storage fees.
After one year, you can apply to have your driving privileges reinstated on the condition that you have proof of financial responsibility. Should you be caught a second time without insurance in an accident, your license will be suspended for up to four years.
Here’s what you can expect:
|First offense||$100–$200 plus penalty assessments of $260–$520||N/A||Police officer may order a vehicle impoundment|
|Second and subsequent offense||$200–$500 plus penalty assessments of $520–$1,300||N/A||Police officer may order a vehicle impoundment|
|First offense after collision||$100–$200 plus penalty assessments of $260–$520||Mandatory one-year suspension, after which you can have your license reinstated if you maintain an SR-22 and proof of financial responsibility for three years||Court may order a vehicle impoundment|
|Second and subsequent offense after collision||$200–$500 plus penalty assessments of $520–$1,300||Up to a four-year suspension; during the last three years of suspension, your privileges can be reinstated if you provide a SR-22 and maintain it.||Court may order a vehicle impoundment|
Appealing your fine
If you are insured and simply forgot to carry your insurance card, you could still receive a ticket with a hefty fine. But you can get it reduced by appearing in court with proof that you were insured on the date you were pulled over. The court may choose to withdraw your ticket and charge you only a $20 administrative service fee.
It’s in your best interest to buy enough coverage as soon as possible to avoid getting slapped with another fine. Plus, having insurance can help you avoid a serious financial burden after an accident. If you can’t find coverage, check with the California Automobile Assigned Risk Plan (CAARP).
When your license has been suspended and you need to drive to work or drive your kids to and from school, you may be able to apply for a restricted license that will allow you to continue driving in necessary circumstances.