Driving Without a License: What Are the Penalties?

Common penalties for driving without a license include heavy fines, suspension of license, and high premiums, and these will increase for subsequent offenses.
Written by Jessica Barrett
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Driving without a license is illegal in every state. Getting caught could result in serious consequences, including financial penalties, a criminal record, an impounded car, and a revoked registration.
You’ll also be subject to high
car insurance
premiums—and some companies may not want to insure you at all.
If you’ve been financially hurt after driving without a license and need affordable coverage,
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What happens when you drive without a license?

The penalties for driving without a license vary depending on several factors, including the state you live in, whether the license was suspended or revoked, and whether this was your first offense.
, fines for driving without a license start at just $50, but they increase substantially (up to $2,500) for subsequent offenses. The state may also suspend or revoke your license and impound your vehicle.
In the
District of Columbia
, even a first-time offense will net you a fine of $2,500 and possible imprisonment for up to a year.
Broadly speaking, here are the penalties you may face for driving without a license.

You’ll feel the squeeze financially

The financial penalties that come with getting caught driving without a license can be harsh.
The initial fines—which can reach up to $10,000 for a first offense that’s classified as a felony—are just the beginning. You may also be hit with vehicle impoundment fees, court costs, and lawyer fees.

You may add a misdemeanor or felony to your record

Depending on the circumstances of your conviction, you may end up with a misdemeanor or felony on your record.
For example, in
, even a first offense for driving without a license is a class I misdemeanor and can result in up to six months’ imprisonment.
, your third offense is a third-degree felony that can result in imprisonment for up to five years.

You may lose your car

In some states, getting caught driving without a license will leave you without a vehicle.
, for example, impounds your vehicle immediately—even if it’s your first offense. This means that on top of fines, you’re liable for impoundment fees to get your car back.

You may lose your vehicle registration

The DMV has the power to revoke your
vehicle registration
in accordance with state laws. Even if you get your vehicle back after driving without a license, you’ll need to go through the process of re-registering it to drive again.

You may have to go without a license for even longer

In some states, a second offense for driving without a license means that you’ll be without a driver’s license for an extended period of time—as in years.
, for example, the suspension period for a second offense is three years.
If you take it one step further and commit a third offense, in Hawaii and
North Carolina
you won’t be allowed to have a driver’s license again.

You’ll pay more for car insurance

And if all that wasn’t enough, having a conviction for driving without a license on your record will increase your car insurance rates significantly since insurers will see you as a
higher-risk driver
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Can you drive without a license in your wallet?

Driving while you’re licensed but neglecting to have the license with you is different than driving with an expired, suspended, or revoked license.
Not having your license with you is a minor offense. While you’ll likely be charged with a traffic infraction, you simply need to prove that you have a valid license in court and the charge may be dismissed.
You may still be liable for a fine, though, which could run you a few hundred dollars.

Is driving without a license a felony or misdemeanor?

In many states, your first offense for driving without a license will be a misdemeanor. You’ll receive a fine—which can range from $50 to more than $2,500—and you may have your license suspended or vehicle impounded.
The law in most states requires you to be caught driving without a license multiple times before you’re charged with a felony.
As an example, here’s how the penalties escalate with each offense in
  • First offense: second-degree misdemeanor—imprisonment for no more than 60 days or a $500 fine
  • Second offense: first-degree misdemeanor—imprisonment for no more than one year or a $1,000 fine
  • Subsequent offenses: third-degree felony—imprisonment for no more than five years or a $5,000 fine and immediate vehicle impoundment
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Penalties for driving without a license for minors

No matter your age, driving without a license is a serious offense and teens are subject to the same penalties as adults.
In addition to significant fees, teens who are caught behind the wheel before they’ve obtained a driver’s license may face a delay in getting their license by a certain number of months.
The penalties do differ depending on the state and the circumstances, so authorities will determine the appropriate punishment in each case.

Can you get car insurance with no license?

While you can technically get
car insurance without a driver’s license
, practically speaking, it can be difficult.
That said, there are a few situations where you can get insurance without a license:
  • If you have an underaged driver in the home who needs coverage
  • If you require a personal driver or caretaker
So, how do you go about getting auto insurance if you don’t have a license?
You’ll need to ensure that the car insurance company will permit you to apply for a policy using the name and license number of the primary driver. This could be a spouse, a teenager, or a caretaker, for example.
Applying with their name and license means that you’ll still be listed on the policy and your car will be covered, but you won’t technically be a driver.
Insurers rely on a number of factors to calculate premiums, including driving records. If you’re not listed as a driver on your own policy, note that the rate will be based on the record of the primary driver.
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but don’t have a license,
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How to get a hardship license

If you’ve had your license suspended or revoked, a
hardship license
may be an option for you. It allows you to drive under certain circumstances and for approved reasons, such as getting to and from work.
Some states limit these licenses, while others don’t offer them at all.
To be eligible for a hardship license, you must be able to prove that the lack of a driver’s license is causing hardship for your family. The requirements for doing this vary by state, and you may be subject to a 45 or 90-day waiting period before you can apply.
Before authorities will issue the license, you’ll need to show
proof of insurance
that meets the legal requirements in your state.
If a DUI was the reason your license was suspended or revoked, you may also be required to have an
SR22 certificate
Having a hardship license will likely drive your auto insurance rates up—and even more so if you have a DUI on your record. But if you require a car to work and can secure coverage, it can be helpful.
If you want affordable car insurance with a hardship license,
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Frequently asked questions

What happens if you get caught driving without a license?

If you get caught driving without a license, you may be subject to harsh penalties including fines and jail time. Authorities could impound your car and revoke your registration, and your insurance premiums will almost certainly increase.

What’s the maximum fine for a conviction of driving without a license?

Fines for driving without a license vary by state.
has the highest fines in the country for a first offense at up to $10,000.
can impose a fine of up to $25,000 for a subsequent offense.

How much is a ticket for driving without a license?

While it depends on the state, the ticket will likely be in the hundreds of dollars.
For a first-time offense in
, for example, a ticket may be worth $150 to $200. The fines will grow for subsequent offenses.

What’s the difference between a suspended and revoked license?

A suspended license is one that is temporarily out of service. A definite suspension ends after a specified time period has passed (and you’ve paid the necessary fees). An indefinite suspension has no defined end date.
A revoked license has been fully canceled and cannot be reinstated. To get a new license, you’ll need to go through your state’s DMV and complete the licensing process again. You’ll also need to pay any civil penalties that you owe.

What happens when you let someone drive your car without a license?

Letting an unlicensed driver take your car out is never a good idea.
Your insurance likely covers your car, not the driver. This means that if you allow an unlicensed driver to use your car and they get into an accident, your insurance company may simply deny your claim.
In this case, you’ll be responsible for covering the cost of repairs, damages, medical expenses, and even legal fees.
Authorities will typically impound a car if it’s being operated by an unlicensed driver. To get it back, you’ll need to pay various fines and fees that can reach thousands of dollars.
You’ll also see your insurance premiums increase, or your insurer may cancel your policy altogether. If this happens, it may be difficult for you to find another company that’s willing to take on the risk to insure your vehicle.

Can insurance companies tell if your license has been suspended?

Yes and no. While insurers have the ability to pull your driving record, they typically don’t do so unless it’s time to renew your policy.
The authorities generally don’t notify insurance companies of license suspensions—that’s your job.
Some policies specify that you must notify the insurer in writing within a certain time period if your license is suspended. Failure to do so may cause them to deny a claim later on.
If your license is suspended, your best course of action is to let your insurance company know right away. This may increase your premium, but it will likely save you headaches down the line.
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