Driving Without a License Versus Driving Without a License on Your Person in California

Driving without a valid California driver’s license can result in serious consequences. However, there’s a significant difference between driving without actually having a valid license and driving without carrying your license with you. 

Driving Without a Valid License in California

According to California Vehicle Code Section 12500 VC, driving without a valid California driver’s license is a crime. If you’re caught behind the wheel without one, you can face possible fines, probation, and even jail time.

To be convicted of driving without a license, the prosecution must prove the following points:

  • The defendant was driving on a highway; 
  • The driver did not have a valid driver’s license; and
  • They were not exempt from having a valid California driver’s license.

These conditions make it necessary to clarify the term ‘highway,’ which refers to any public road maintained by the government for vehicular travel, including passenger vehicles, motorcycles, scooters, buses, school buses, commercial vehicles, truck tractors, and trailers.

Exceptions to California Driver’s License Rule

There are a few exceptions concerning the requirement of a valid California driver’s license for out-of-state drivers visiting California or those who have recently moved to the state. 

These exceptions include:

  • Out-of-state drivers visiting California must have a valid driver’s license from their home state or country.
  • Those with primary residences outside California are exempt from having a valid California driver’s license.
  • Individuals who have moved to California within the last 20 days are exempt from procuring a valid California driver’s license until the 20-day period is up.

It’s crucial to note that these exemptions only apply to those driving with an appropriate driver’s license from their home state or country, and not to those driving with no license at all.

Penalties For Driving Without a Valid License

Driving without a license is a serious violation, and breaking this law can lead to severe consequences for drivers. Contrary to what some might believe, the penalties for driving without a license are not trivial. 

They include the following: 

Infraction Punishable by a Fine: For a first-time offense, driving without a valid driver’s license is typically considered an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $250.

Misdemeanor Charge: If the driver is caught another time, they can be charged with a misdemeanor. In this case, the driver can face up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Prior Misdemeanor: If a driver has a previous misdemeanor conviction for driving without a license, the penalties remain the same as mentioned above. However, the vehicle may also be impounded for up to 30 days.

Driving Without a License on Your Person in California

Driving without having your license on your person is different from driving without a valid one. While it is still illegal, the penalties for this offense are much less severe. 

If a police officer pulls you over and you don’t have your license with you, you may receive a citation, referred to as a “fix-it ticket.” Once you show proof of a valid license to a judge or court clerk, the ticket will likely be dismissed.

When a driver has a suspended license and decides to get behind the wheel anyway, they’re committing a distinct and separate violation from driving without a license. 

This violation has harsher penalties, bringing more significant consequences for the driver:

More Severe Punishments: Convictions for driving on a suspended license can lead to jail time and fines as high as $2,000. 

“Priorable” Offenses: In California, convictions for driving on a suspended license are considered “priorable” offenses, meaning that the penalties increase with each subsequent conviction. This escalating consequence highlights the severity of this violation compared to driving without a license.

Two-Point Penalty: Driving on a suspended license carries a two-point penalty against the driver’s record with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). As these points accumulate, drivers risk higher insurance premiums, further penalties, and even potential suspension or revocation of their license.

Understand the Difference Between Driving Without a Valid License and Driving Without a License in Your Possession

By understanding the differences between driving without a license and driving without a license on your person, as well as the potential consequences, you can be better prepared to make informed decisions and avoid legal issues in the future. 

Additionally, if you were involved in a car accident in which the other driver was driving without a valid license, their violation could affect your claim. A California car accident attorney can explain the implications during a free consultation.

Contact the Chula Vista Car Accident Law Firm of Mission Personal Injury Lawyers Today To Get More Information

If you’ve been injured in a car accident in San Diego or Chula Vista, please call Mission Personal Injury Lawyers for a free case evaluation with a personal injury lawyer or contact us online.

We proudly serve San Diego County and throughout California.

Mission Personal Injury Lawyers
2515 Camino del Rio S Suite 350, San Diego, CA 92108

(619) 777-5555

Mission Personal Injury Lawyers – Chula Vista Office
690 Otay Lakes Rd #130, Chula Vista, CA 91910
(619) 722-3032

We also serve the state of Texas. Contact our personal injury law office in El Paso for legal assistance today.

Mission Personal Injury Lawyers – El Paso Office
201 E Main Suite 106, El Paso, Texas 79901
(915) 591-1000