Driving without a License

Driving without a LicenseThe Crime of Driving without a License

Sec 12500(a) of the California Vehicle Code defines the crime of driving without a license as the prohibition on people driving in California without a valid driver's license.


In order to be determined as valid, there need not be a driver's license issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The license, be it from out of state or from out of country must be:

  • A valid driver's license from the state where the driver lives in;
  • The license allows the holder to operate the vehicle when pulled over and requested by lawful authority.

This is a misdemeanor offense and despite being minor, still appears on the individual's criminal record. The following are other situations where an individual can be cited for driving without a license:

  • The driver operating a vehicle did not obtain a driver's license or a learner's permit;
  • The driver failed to renew the driver's license after its expiry;
  • The driver is a resident of California but failed to obtain a California driver's license;
  • You are ineligible to drive a vehicle in California for legal reasons.

The elements of the crime are as follows:

  • That the driver operated the vehicle on a street or highway;
  • That at the time of the driving, the driver did not hold a validly issued driver's license.

This crime can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a non-criminal infraction. What is important in determining the appropriate penalty is the individual's driving history. For the first offense, the penalty may be a non criminal infraction and a subsequent charge may lead to a misdemeanor offense. These offenses though can be reduced or even dismissed if a subsequently obtained valid driver's license is obtained. In discussion though, the following are the imposable penalties:

  • Informal or summary probation of up to three years;
  • A maximum of six (6) months in county penitentiary;
  • A maximum fine of $1,000;
  • Thirty (30) day impounding of the vehicle.

For a first offense, a fine of $250 is imposed for the traffic citation ticket.

This crime is related to the crime of driving on a suspended or revoked license. Under Sec 14601 of the California Vehicle Code, this is a more serious offense. This requires that the accused had a suspended or revoked license and the penalties for the crime are as follows:

  • A more severe jail sentence;
  • Increased penalties with each subsequent conviction.