Ticket Spotlight: Driving Without a License in California

driving without a license in California

Obtaining and maintaining a California driver’s license is no easy task. People who have waited hours at the CA DMV can attest to that. However, California drivers are required to carry a valid license while driving a vehicle in order to avoid prosecution. Let’s examine the three main reasons for driving without a license, the associated penalties—and how to avoid them!

Having a license, but not currently possessing it while driving

Did you merely forget to bring your license on a drive? The most likely outcome is being charged with an infraction of CA VC 12951. This means you were licensed to operate a vehicle, however you lacked proof at the time of the traffic stop. Don’t fret—all you have to do is prove to the court that you are in possession of a valid CA driver’s license, and the initial charges will be dismissed, not going on your record as a criminal violation. Keep in mind, fines are often handed out to violators of VC 12951. Without including additional fees, the fine for this offense can be a maximum of $250. A steep traffic fine for simply forgetting your license at home.

License expired or never applied for one

If you find yourself with a ticket for driving with an expired license, there is a chance of getting charged with a misdemeanor. This is a violation of CA VC 12500. Violators of this code are typically transplants from out of state. The California DMV requires that you have a valid California license, regardless of your home state’s license validity. If you are able to obtain a new, valid license shortly after being charged with the misdemeanor, prosecutors will commonly reduce the penalty to a basic infraction. If the penalty is reduced to an infraction, the fine will be a maximum of $250, without other fees. As a misdemeanor charge, however, the maximum fine can be up to $1000, including possible vehicle impoundment, and summary probation.

License was cancelled, revoked or suspended

This is by far the most serious of the three offenses—it is the most expensive infraction as well. To drive with a cancelled, revoked, or suspended license is to break CA VC 14601. This means you could be subject to imprisonment in a county jail for at least five days, with a maximum of six months. Incurred fines will range from $300 to $1000. Probation and vehicle impoundment are on the table as well. You could be put on informal probation for a maximum of three years, and your car could be impounded for a maximum of 30 days. Be aware that there are high fees associated with towing and impoundment. Over the course of 30 days, these could add up to over $1000. Common examples of breaking CA VC 14601, include drivers with DUI-related license suspensions. This particular offense brings with it a minimum jail sentence of 10 days for the first offense, 30 days for the second, and an ignition interlock device installed on the violator’s car.

Who doesn’t require a California driver’s license?

There is a chance you may not even need a license; hence the above regulations would not apply to you. According to CA VC 12501, the following individuals are not required to obtain and hold a valid California driver’s license:

  • 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.
  • Any person while driving or operating implements of husbandry incidentally operated or moved over a highway, except as provided in Section 36300 or 36305.
  • 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 offstreet parking facility, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 12500.

If you do not fit any of these criteria, it is imperative that you hold a valid California license while driving—if you are looking for motivation, look no further than the steep fines that come with these types of infractions.

Fight your “driving without a license” charge

If you receive a California ticket revolving around not carrying a valid license, contact us at Get Dismissed for assistance. We also specialize in fighting tickets for speeding, red lights, red light cameras, cell phones, signs (primarily stop signs), carpool violations, out of lane violations, commercial violations, and more.


Wherever you drive in California.



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

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