Driving Without a License in California

Driving without a license

When you are pulled over by a police officer, the first thing they usually ask for is your license and registration. But what if you do not have a license or it’s expired? Learn about what it means to drive without a license, the consequences you could face if caught, and who doesn’t need to possess a valid California driver’s license.

What Defines “Driving Without a License” and Associated Penalties

What happens if you get caught driving without a license? Let’s look at the different types of license-related infractions.  The least serious offense is if you have a valid license, but you don’t have it in your car when pulled over. This infraction type is classified under Section 12591 of the California Vehicle Code. You can easily dismiss this infraction by proving to the court that you had a valid driver’s license at the time of being pulled over. A fine may be designated to you, but there are ways of fighting the ticket.

What if you never even applied for a license or you get caught driving with an expired license? California Vehicle Code 12500 rules, “A person may not drive a motor vehicle upon a highway, unless the person then holds a valid driver’s license issued under this code, except those persons who are expressly exempted under this code.”

You are in violation of this code if:

  1. You drive on a road without ever securing a California driver’s license
  2. You do not renew your California driver’s license when it expires
  3. You establish official residency in California, but do not secure a California-issued driver’s license

A ticket with this code violation usually has a maximum fine of $250. However, a combination of special circumstances and high court fees can bump the fine to a maximum of $1,000 in some cases. This code violation can also bring about a misdemeanor charge, vehicle impounding, and summary probation. Teenagers have frequently fallen victim to this infraction type. For more information on California teen driving and licensing laws, check out this guide:


If your license is cancelled, revoked, or suspended by authorities, matters turn more serious. Under California Vehicle Code Sections 14601-14611, a mere first conviction could lead to jail-time. In fact, the code falls for a minimum of five days in county jail, with a maximum of six months. For a first offense. It is recommended that you seek professional legal help if you find yourself in this kind of situation. Not to mention, this offense carries a minimum fine of $300, and a maximum of $1,000. Repeat infractions will result in massively increased penalties as well.

Note, for all these infractions, many Californian prosecutors have been known to reduce criminal charges to mere infractions if the defendant is able to acquire a license before their court hearing.

Who Doesn’t Require a California Driver’s License?

California Vehicle Code Section 12501 states that there are a few exemptions for people who do not require a California driver’s license.

  1. An officer or employee of the United States, while operating a motor vehicle owned or controlled by the United States on the business of the United States, except when the motor vehicle being operated is a commercial motor vehicle, as defined in Section 15210.
  2. Any person while driving or operating implements of husbandry incidentally operated or moved over a highway, except as provided in Section 36300 or 36305.
  3. Any person driving or operating an off-highway motor vehicle subject to identification, as defined in Section 38012, while driving or operating such motor vehicle as provided in Section 38025. Nothing in this subdivision authorizes operation of a motor vehicle by a person without a valid driver’s license upon any off-street parking facility, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 12500.

For these specific groups, there is no penalty for driving without a license in California.

I’ve Been Cited for Driving Without a License. Now What?

First things first, don’t panic. A ticket fighting service can help you get out of this kind of infraction. Hopefully it doesn’t happen in the first place—especially driving with a cancelled, revoked, or suspended license—but if you do get cited for a Driver’s License Traffic Ticket, visit us on the web at www.ticketbust.com or call (800) 850-8038, to find out how to get it dismissed.

TicketBust works in all these counties:


TicketBust is ready to fight your ticket from a desktop, laptop, or any mobile device.

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