You must have a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit to legally operate a motor vehicle in the state of California. California Vehicle Code Section 12500 states that a person must hold a valid license to drive a motor vehicle, motorcycle, or motorized bicycle on a highway. Going against this code is a traffic violation that could result in serious penalties and fines – especially if the unlicensed driver breaks a roadway rule or causes a car accident. If you have a driver’s license but don’t have it with you during a traffic stop, you may have to pay a fine. Learn the details of these laws to stay out of legal trouble.
Penalties for Driving Without a License in California
In general, driving without a license refers to not having a valid license but still operating a motor vehicle in California. This can mean that you never got your driver’s license, let your license expire, or moved to California but didn’t obtain a state driver’s license. Driving without a valid license can result in a traffic infraction with a fine of $250 maximum. In some situations, however, this offense can be a misdemeanor with a $1,000 maximum fine, probation, and vehicle impound.
Some traffic violations, such as drunk driving, can result in the California Department of Motor Vehicles suspending your license. This means you cannot drive your vehicle (sometimes with exceptions for work and/or school) until the suspension ends. Driver’s license revocation means the driver cannot drive indefinitely. Driving on a suspended, revoked, or canceled license in California is a serious offense. According to California Vehicle Code Section 14601, this offense can result in jail time for five days to six months, as well as $300 to $1,000 in fines.
If you have a valid driver’s license but simply forgot to bring it with you when you drove, you may or may not have to pay a fine. This isn’t a serious offense, but it can lead to a “fix-it ticket,” in which you will have to prove that you have a valid license or else have to pay for the ticket… It is possible to fight a charge for driving without a license, although not easy. You must prove that you did, in fact, possess a valid driver’s license at the time of your traffic offense. You may need a personal injury attorney’s assistance. Always try to carry your valid driver’s license or learner’s permit with you before you get behind the wheel in California.
Exceptions to the Rule
Some drivers don’t need to obtain driver’s licenses in California. Vehicle Codes 12501 and 12502 list exceptions to the rule. United States employees operating vehicles owned by the government do not need licenses, nor do those operating “implements of husbandry” that move on highways. Driving off-highway vehicles (such as ATVs) also do not need driver’s licenses. Someone may drive without a valid California license if he or she is a nonresident with a valid license from another state. People who drive special vehicles, such as commercial trucks or motorcycles, must carry special licenses to do so.
In an Accident with an Illegal Driver?
If you get into a car accident with a driver who was operating the vehicle without a valid license, he or she may be liable for your damages. Driving without a license or on a suspended/revoked license is an act of negligence that could point to that driver’s liability for the wreck. This could mean the driver’s insurance company will pay your medical bills and property damage from the crash. If driving without a license wasn’t the proximate cause of the crash, however, you will need to prove another form of negligence caused the accident. Working with a car accident attorney can help you get the most for your car accident claim in California.