What Happens If You Drive Without a License in California?
California law holds that if you’re driving a motor vehicle, you must be licensed to do so. Violations can bring about penalties, and no one wants to be slapped with jail time, fines and fees.
Nevertheless, driving without a license in California is an easy law to break. If you get into an accident, you might be worried that not having a license could negatively impact any claims you would need to file with your insurance company.
How Does Not Having a Drivers License Affect Fault Determination in a Motor Vehicle Accident?
Ultimately, not having a license will not affect a motor vehicle accident case. What will affect that accident case is whether or not you are currently covered by an auto liability insurance policy.
California is a “fault” state. Consequently, someone is blamed for every crash. If you are not at fault in a wreck, being short of a drivers license won’t affect your case one way or the other.
Furthermore, lacking a license has no bearing on your settlement options. You can simply file a claim with your insurer against the other driver’s insurance company or against the at-fault driver personally.
On the other hand, you could indeed cause a crash yourself, and if you do, it’s not because you don’t have a drivers license. Driving with no license is illegal, but it has nothing to do with a determination of fault.
What Are the Penalties for Driving With No License?
If you are stopped by law enforcement and you lack a license, you’ll probably get a ticket. Driving with no license can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or an infraction depending on your driving history and whether the prosecutor is having a good day.
It’s an easy crime to rectify. In many cases, the charges can be dismissed if you get a valid license before your case is heard.
What Are the Offenses for Driving With No License
You could be charged with a variety of offenses under the broad spectrum of driving with no license:
- You’ve never had a California license
- Your license is currently revoked or suspended
- You have a license, but it’s expired
- You left your license at home
You left your license at home
Leaving your license at home is the least serious offense. You might be charged with an infraction under the California Vehicle Code Section 12951, and you’ll have to appear in court.
If you can show the judge that you do, in fact, have a valid license, the charges are likely to be dismissed.
Your driving record won’t show a criminal offense, and your only penalty will be a trip to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which is nobody’s favorite way to spend an afternoon.
Your license is revoked, suspended or cancelled
This charge is more serious and carries greater penalties than leaving your license at home. Instead of getting charged with an infraction, you’ll be charged with a misdemeanor.
Under California Vehicle Code 14601, you may be imprisoned in a county jail for no more than six months and no less than five days. You could also be fined no more than $1,000 and no less than $300.
Additionally, you could be subject to up to three years of informal probation or up to 30 days of having your vehicle impounded. If that happens, you’ll have to pay for the tow as well as 30 days worth of fees just for taking up space there.
The fees can add up to more than $1,000, but that’s not the worst of it. Ultimately, your car may be forfeited and sold at auction.
Let’s say an individual is caught driving with a revoked or suspended license due to a DUI conviction. That offense carries a minimum jail sentence of 10 days for the first sentence.
A second offense carries a minimum jail sentence of 30 days in addition to the installation of an ignition interlock device on the individual’s vehicle.
Your license has expired
Driving with an expired California license can get you a misdemeanor charge. However, most prosecutors will reduce or dismiss the charge if you are willing to renew your license reasonably soon.
If you recently moved to California, you will need to get a California license even if your existing license from your former state is perfectly valid.
If you are stopped and have not yet gotten a proper California license, you will be charged with driving with no license. However, if you obtain a California license within 20 days, the charges will most likely be reduced to an infraction.
You’ve never had a license
Having no license is likely to get you charged with either a misdemeanor or an infraction. The law also applies to anyone who is too young to get a license. Nevertheless, if this is your first offense, you might catch a break.
The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor offense is six months in jail and a fine of $1,000. Conversely, a charge of infraction will only cost you a fine of $250.
You can eliminate all of these hassles by implementing a few preventive measures:
- Carry your license with you when you drive.
- Always renew your license before it expires.
- Take a California driver’s ed course and get your license.
- Don’t drive if your license is canceled, suspended or revoked.
How Likely Are You to be in an Accident?
Motor vehicle accidents are a common occurrence on California roadways. The State Office of Traffic Safety reports that hundreds of thousands of motor vehicle accidents have occurred over the last reporting year. Injuries totaled 273,069 while fatalities totaled 3,602.
Most of the reported injuries are considered minor. Nevertheless, even minor injuries can turn costly down the road. Auto accident injuries may not even be apparent directly after a crash. However, they can develop after a day or two.
The Office of Traffic Safety also reports that 14,188 of the injuries over the latest reporting year were serious. These are injuries that can drastically alter the course of a person’s life. Severe injuries can render victims unable to perform the tasks of daily life.
Maintaining current vehicle insurance policies is a must if you want to protect yourself. You should also visit a physician if you’ve been in a wreck just to confirm that you are okay.
It’s also a good idea to consult with an experienced California PI attorney if you even suspect that you might have sustained an injury. Most lawyers offer free consultations to determine if you have a case.
Will My Compensation be Denied Because I Have No License?
If you are on the road with no license and you get smacked by a driver who is texting, that driver’s insurance company will try very hard to use your lack of a license against you in any way possible.
They might try to convince you that because you didn’t have a license, you are partially to blame for the accident.
Unfortunately for drivers, insurance companies are more interested in making money than in protecting policyholders. They don’t always have your best interests at heart. That’s why it’s so important to consult with a personal injury lawyer if you think you might have a case.
What About Insurance Coverage?
Under California law, you must always maintain at least minimum liability coverage while driving a motor vehicle. Legal penalties may be levied against you for driving with lapsed insurance. You may be held personally responsible for any harm you cause to others.
Because California is a “fault” state, drivers involved in an accident will file claims with their insurance companies, against the other driver’s insurance company or against the at-fault driver personally.
If you are involved in an accident through no fault of your own, you can always file a claim against the at-fault driver. If you were to blame, the other driver would file a claim against you. That holds true whether the individuals possess valid drivers licenses or not.
How Can a CA Attorney Help?
If you have been in an accident while driving with no license, you are still entitled to receive fair compensation for any losses or injuries you suffer. Applicable damages can include:
- Mental anguish
- Emotional distress
- Loss of the ability to enjoy life
- Past, present and future medical care and prescription drug costs
- Past, present and future loss of income
- Potential punitive damages from negligent parties
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium