Is Driving Without a License a Felony?

Is driving without a license a felony in your home state? Read our guide to find out.
Written by R.E. Fulton
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
background
Driving without a license is illegal in every state—but it can only be charged as a felony in Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri. 
 If you don’t live in one of those states, don’t take that as an invitation to get behind the wheel with an expired license!  Even in states where driving without a license isn’t a felony, 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,
licensed broker
app
Jerry
can get you cheap
car insurance quotes online
. In this guide, Jerry covers the legal penalties for driving without a license and offers some expert tips for getting insurance after a traffic ticket.
 

Is driving without a license a felony or misdemeanor?

Driving without a valid driver’s license is illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In some states, however, it’s considered a traffic infraction while other states treat it as a criminal offense.
 The only state in which driving without a license is a felony on the first offense is
Indiana
. In Indiana, you can be charged with a Class 6 Felony the first time you’re caught driving without a license and can be sentenced to anywhere from six months to two years and six months in jail. This felony charge also carries fines up to $10,000—Indiana takes driving without a license seriously.
 The other states where you could be charged without a felony for driving without a license are
Florida
,
Georgia
,
Illinois
,
Kentucky
, and
Missouri
. In each of these states, your first offense will be considered a misdemeanor—but rack up enough offenses, and you’ll be looking at felony charges. Here are how the penalties for driving without a license in these states rack up:
 | State | When is it a felony? | Charge | Imprisonment and fines | Additional penalties | 
| - - - - | - - - - | - - - - | - - - - - - | 
| Florida | 3rd or subsequent offenses | 3rd-degree felony | Imprisonment for 10 days to 5 years OR a $5000 fine | Immediate vehicle impoundment |
| Georgia | 4th or subsequent offenses | Felony | 1 to 5 years imprisonment and possible $2500-$5000 fine | Six months added to license suspension | 
| Illinois | 2nd or subsequent offenses | Class 4 felony | Imprisonment for 1 to 3 years; fine up to $25,000 | Possible vehicle impoundment | 
| Kentucky | 3rd or subsequent offenses | Class D felony | Imprisonment for 1 to 5 years | Two years added to license suspension | 
| Missouri | 3rd or subsequent offenses | Class E felony | Imprisonment up to 4 years | N/A | 
 In other states, the most you can get for driving without a license is a misdemeanor charge—and in some cases, it may not rise beyond a traffic violation. For example, the California Vehicle Code allows law enforcement officers to charge drivers with either an infraction or a misdemeanor for driving without a valid
California
driver’s license. 
 If you forgot your license, you might get just a traffic ticket. But if you previously lost your driving privileges due to a
reckless driving charge
and are driving with a suspended or revoked license, the penalties get serious. According to
California Vehicle Code Section 14601
, a first conviction for driving with a suspended license in California can earn you five days to six months in jail and a fine of $300 to $1,000
RECOMMENDED
Compare auto insurance policies
No spam or unwanted phone calls · No long forms
Find insurance savings

What happens when you drive without a license?

Driving without a license is a serious offense no matter where you live. Although the exact legal penalties vary based on your state’s laws, the consequences of driving without a license can add up quickly. 
Here are a few of the reasons why it’s never a good idea to drive without a license—even if you live in a state where it isn’t a felony. 

You’ll feel the squeeze financially

Driving without a license isn’t a felony in every state—but it is illegal everywhere, and most states impose some kind of financial penalty for this offense. 
One of the lowest starting fines for a first offense is in
Wisconsin
, where driving with a suspended license can get you fines from $50 to $200. But in other states, fines open as high as $1,000 (
Utah
) or $500 (Delaware,
Massachusetts
, and
New Jersey
). 
Direct fines are just the beginning of the financial woes a driving-without-a-license charge can cause. Many states include mandatory imprisonment as a penalty for even a first offense, which could impact your ability to work or even lead to losing your job
Vehicle impoundment is another major financial risk. In
Alabama
,
Arizona
,
Delaware
, and
Oregon
, your vehicle can be impounded for your first offense of driving without a license—and you’ll have to pay through the nose to get the vehicle back. 
Finally, license revocation is a common penalty for driving without a license. Having your license suspended could make it difficult to get to work, and when the suspension period is up, you’ll need to pay a release fee to get your driving privileges reinstated

You may add a misdemeanor to your record

In some states, driving without a license can be considered a simple moving violation, especially if you can demonstrate that you do have a valid driver’s license that simply isn’t with you at the moment. 
But in most cases, driving without a license—especially if your license is suspended or revoked or if you’ve already been charged with a previous offense—can be charged as a misdemeanor. That means you’ll be adding a criminal offense to your record. 
If you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony in connection with driving without a license, it’s a good idea to seek legal advice from a criminal defense lawyer familiar with the laws in your home state. Look for a law firm that offers free consultations if possible.  

You may lose your car

Did we mention impoundment? Vehicle impoundment is a possible consequence of driving without a license in seven states: Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, and Oregon
Getting your vehicle out of a police impound lot is a huge headache—especially if you’re also serving a jail sentence. Because police regularly auction off impounded vehicles to avoid a huge burden on their resources, you’ll have to move fast (and pay a lot of money) to get your car back. If you’re imprisoned for driving without a license, you may need to arrange for a friend or family member to buy the car back on your behalf. 

You may lose your vehicle registration

Even if your physical vehicle isn’t seized by police officers, the Department of Motor Vehicles can revoke your vehicle registration in accordance with state laws. That means that, once you get your car and license back, you’ll have to go through the hassle (and expense—noticing a theme?) of re-registering the vehicle. 

You may have to go without a license for even longer

Many states will add an additional period of time to your driver’s license suspension if you’re caught driving while it’s suspended. Those penalties get even more severe if it’s a repeated offense. 
If your license has been suspended, you might feel like you’ve got no choice but to drive without it. After all, how else are you going to get to work, to school, or other places you need to be? In rural areas or car-centric cities like
Los Angeles
and
Detroit
, this is a real concern—but driving with a suspended license just means tempting fate for an even longer suspension
In Michigan, for instance, a second offense could cause your license suspension period to double. And in both Hawaii and
North Carolina
, your license can be permanently revoked for multiple offenses—meaning you’ll never be able to get a new license in your state again.  

You’ll pay more for car insurance

Even if the potential consequences sound survivable, driving without a license could have serious long-term effects on your auto insurance rates. 
Insurance companies will see anyone convicted of driving without a license as a high-risk driver. You can expect a significant increase in your annual premium, and that higher rate might not drop for a long time, especially if you have a criminal record or points on your driver’s license. 
Luckily,
Jerry
still can find affordable rates for drivers with less than perfect driving records. No matter what your record looks like, Jerry can search for the cheapest rates from over 55 insurance providers to find you the best options based on your driver profile. 
MORE:
The traffic tickets that have the greatest effect on your car insurance rates
Compare quotes from 50+ insurers with Jerry in under 45 seconds?
icon4.7/5 rating on the App Store | Trusted by 5+ million customers and 7 million cars
icon4.7/5 app rating | Trusted by 5M+ drivers

How to get a hardship license

In some states, a hardship license, sometimes known as a restricted use license, may be available to you if your license has been suspended. These licenses allow drivers to operate a motor vehicle after a license suspension for certain approved reasons, such as getting to and from work
States that offer hardship or restricted licenses include: 
  • Arkansas
  • California 
  • Florida
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Washington
To get a hardship license, you’ll likely need to prove that your license suspension is causing you or your household material hardship: e.g. lost wages. The application procedures vary from state to state, so check with your state’s DMV for more information. 
Keep in mind that one requirement for a hardship license is carrying your state’s minimum car insurance. If your license was suspended or revoked as a result of a DUI charge, you may need
an SR-22 certificate
certifying that you’ve met the state minimums.  

Where to get the cheapest car insurance with a traffic ticket

If you’ve got a traffic ticket on your driving record—from something as simple as a speeding ticket to a serious offense like driving without a license—you’ve likely seen your auto insurance rate spike. But you can still get affordable car insurance—you just need to know where to look. 
Start with Jerry. As
a licensed insurance broker
, Jerry partners with over 55 insurance providers nationwide (including
Nationwide
!) to find the best rates for every driver based on their unique profile. The whole shopping process takes under a minute, and you’ll see real-time quotes from actual insurance companies. 
Once you’ve chosen the quote you like, Jerry’s team of expert insurance agents will handle all the paperwork to get you switched over to your new low rate ASAP—no phone calls or endless forms required! 
“I have a really bad record, so all of my previous insurance quotes were pretty high. I started using
Jerry
and the fantastic app saved me $130 a month on my insurance.” —Jett A.
Let Jerry find your price in only 45 seconds
No spam · No long forms · No fees
Find insurance savings

FAQs

Yes. For a first offense, driving without a license in Michigan carries a penalty of up to 93 days of jail time. Subsequent offenses are subject to imprisonment for up to one year.  
If you’ve just forgotten your license but have a valid California driver’s license, you may be able to get away with a traffic violation and a court fee of about $250. But if you get pulled over for driving with a suspended license in California, the minimum penalty is five days in jail and a $300 fine. 
Driving without a license in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor carrying a fee of up to $500 for a first offense. Repeat the mistake, and you’ll be looking at up to 180 days of jail time and fines up to $2,000—possibly both! 
Are you overpaying for car insurance?
Compare quotes and find out in 45 seconds.
Try Jerry

Easiest way to compare and buy car insurance

√
No long forms
√
No spam or unwanted phone calls
√
Quotes from top insurance companies
Find insurance savings