Marissa Hayes is a technical editor and contributing writer. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in history, and she was the editor of the literary magazine, The Bluestone Review.

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Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years. He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like Reviews.com.

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Car Insurance Agent Daniel Walker

UPDATED: Feb 24, 2022

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The Short of It

  • Driving without a license is punishable by a fine, up to 60 days jail time, and a second-degree misdemeanor, depending on the state
  • Suspended licenses are reinstated by meeting requirements stipulated by the court, whereas a revoked license may be ineligible for reinstatement
  • Driving without insurance is punishable by fines and a possible license suspension

What happens if you get pulled over without a license? The laws differ depending on the offense. Driving if you don’t have a license at all is very different from simply forgetting your ID, and it’s different again if your license has been suspended.

Some states are stricter than others when drivers forget their licenses at home, drive with an expired license, or drive unlicensed. However, the strictest penalties are for those who get behind the wheel unlicensed. Just forgetting your license is a much less serious offense.

Not only are there legal penalties, but the cost of car insurance coverage will go up if you have a conviction for driving uninsured. Below we’ll explain everything you need to know about driving without a license.

Whether you are a new driver or someone who has been on the road for decades, comparing car insurance options remains an integral part of the driving experience. Use your ZIP code in our free car insurance comparison tool to find the insurance coverage that matches your needs and driving history.

Driving Without a License Can Mean Fines or Jail Time

Operating a vehicle without a license should never be done. The penalties for doing so vary between states but generally involve a hefty fine and a second-degree misdemeanor charge. In some cases, a driver may serve jail time. In Florida, for example, driving without a valid license is a second-degree misdemeanor, and drivers can face up to 60 days of jail time along with a fine of several hundred dollars.

Driving without a valid license is illegal in the entire United States, so getting caught driving without a valid license in a different state than that of your residence has similar consequences across the country.

Driving with an expired license bears much less severe consequences, but is still not worth the risk. The repercussions for driving with an expired license differ depending on the state. In Florida, residents may receive a ticket that can be dismissed in traffic court. Floridians also have six months to get their license renewed before the consequences for driving with an expired license get more severe. In contrast, Californians have no grace period and can face up to $1,000 in fines for a first-time offense.

There are a Few Exemptions to Driving Without a License Laws

Some specific people have clearance to drive without a license. These exemptions affect non-residents and tourists from other countries who understand road laws and are eligible to drive in the United States. Drivers who fall into this category are encouraged to carry their passports or other identification.

Additionally, military members may be authorized to drive without their license if they are actively working.

Driving With a Suspended or Revoked License

The difference between a suspended and revoked license is simple and involves time. A driver can get their suspended license reinstated by clearing whatever obstacle stands in the way of getting it back. Typically, this is a traffic-related fee. Some suspended licenses may only take days to clear and obtain again.

A revoked license means that a driver has lost the ability to hold a driver’s license for months, years, or indefinitely. In the case of severe charges, like repeated DUIs or driving without insurance multiple times, a driver’s license may be indefinitely revoked.

There are several situations in which a license can be suspended or revoked. The most common circumstances are incidents where a driver has driven under the influence of alcohol or drugs and been charged with a DUI, a driver with a medical or vision-related issue that prevents them from driving safely, or the failure to pay for fines and traffic-related fees.

The consequence of having a suspended or revoked license is that a driver cannot drive at all. However, what if you are caught driving with a suspended or revoked license?

The consequences of driving with a suspended or revoked license are incredibly hefty fines, usually over $10,000. This amount varies by state, with some states charging as much as $25,000 for this infraction.

Getting Your License Back After Revocation or Suspension

Depending on the state of residence, drivers may have to wait a certain period to reinstate their suspended or revoked license. After the suspension period, there are stipulations that each driver is required to follow. Some states require driving improvement courses or alcohol and drug classes. When a driver has met all the requirements for their reinstatement, they may have their license issued by their local DMV office. A revoked license, however, may not ever be eligible for reinstatement. Always refer to the conditions of your suspension or revocation for details.

A driver who has a suspended or revoked license due to driving under the influence may have trouble finding insurance companies that are willing to cover them. Drivers who get arrested for a DUI are considered high-risk drivers, which means the insurance company will be taking more responsibility if this driver makes another decision to drive while intoxicated. Typically, drivers with a DUI charge will pay nearly twice as much for insurance as those who do not. Auto insurance companies accept DUIs with additional costs to cover the prospect of further traffic incidents from that driver.

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What to Expect if You Get Pulled Over Without Your License

When getting pulled over without a valid license, remain calm. Pull onto the shoulder of the road and wait for the officer to approach you. Likely, the officer will write you a ticket. In most states, this ticket is a second-degree misdemeanor.

While this ticket is technically considered an arrest, you may not get detained at a police station. Depending on the state, you may be released and receive a court notice which you will be required to attend. Missing the court date for your misdemeanor could get you into more severe trouble with more fines and possible license revocation.

At this court date, you may receive jail time and a fine. In some cases, the jail time may be up to 60 days.

Driving Without Insurance

Insurance coverage is taken very seriously in every state. New Hampshire residents cannot even own a vehicle unless they have car insurance. Across the United States, the consequences of getting caught driving without insurance can include hefty fines of up to $500 per offense and a potential license suspension of up to three years. For example, the consequences of driving without insurance in Missouri include a license reinstatement fee for first-time offenders, a 90-day suspension and $200 fine for second-time offenders, a one-year license suspension with a $400 fine for third-time and subsequent offenders.

Getting your license back after getting caught driving without insurance entails following the requirements set forth by the DMV office and the authorities. If your license gets suspended, you must pay all fines or citations and attend any driving improvement courses required.

Driving Without a License is Not Worth the Risk

Every driver on the road should have a valid license to show when they get pulled over. The trouble, stress, and discomfort of driving without your license can have many negative impacts on your driving experience and insurance coverage.

Now that you know the penalties of being pulled over without a license and how troublesome the charges and fines can be, you know that the risk is not worth it.

Getting caught driving without a license or insurance at any age can impact coverage and which companies are available to cover you. Knowing the consequences of getting pulled over without a license can ease a lot of stress in getting comfortable on the road. Additionally, knowing what happens with your insurance coverage if you are pulled over without a license can keep you prepared. Use our free car insurance comparison tool to see which insurance companies match your needs best.