Driving Without a License


People not only need to drive, they want to. It’s more than a mode of transportation, it’s freedom. But the right to drive is a privilege based on having the proper license. This license shows where you reside and proves that you had the prerequisite education and training necessary to safely operate the vehicle.

However, there are people who drive without this proof or continue to drive without updating their license. Driving without a license is often based on a mistake. People who move to California don’t realize there’s a time limit for updating their license or people forget to renew their license before it expires. There are also people who can’t legally obtain a California driver’s license but drive anyway.

If you were ticketed for driving without a valid license, contact a San Diego traffic attorney right away. While it’s a minor crime, you want to avoid a tarnished driving record, fines, and probation.

California Law

Under California Vehicle Code Section 12500, it’s illegal to drive without having a valid license. It doesn’t have to be a California license, but it needs to be valid for the state in which you reside and for the type of vehicle you’re driving. For instance, motorcycles and commercial trucks require different licenses than a car, van, or small truck.

Examples of this offense include:

  • Mary moved to California a few months ago but never updated her driver’s license. She was pulled over and ticketed for driving without a license because she should now have a valid California license.
  • Gary took a driver’s education class and obtained a learner’s permit, but he never went to get a provisional license. However, he began driving by himself often. Gary was ticketed because he never obtained a valid license to drive without someone over 25 years old in the car.
  • Cynthia is a busy, working mom of three kids. She never checked when her licensed expired. When she was pulled over, the police officer realized her license had been expired for more than 6 months and ticketed her for driving without a license.
  • Max came to California as an exchange student but didn’t leave the U.S. even when his visa expired. He is unable to obtain a driver’s license because he can’t prove his legal residency. He was pulled over when he was borrowing a friend’s car and was ticketed for driving without a license.

If you were stopped by the police and merely don’t have your valid license with you, this will be ticketed as an infraction. In many cases, you can have the infraction dismissed by proving to the court you were driving with a valid license at the time you were ticketed.

Potential Penalties

Driving without a license is a usually a misdemeanor but in some cases, the prosecutor will only charge you with an infraction. If it’s your first offense and you’re able to obtain a valid license, you may only get an infraction which comes with a fine – no jail time.

If you’re charged with a misdemeanor, you face jail, probation, and fines. You could be sentenced to up to 6 months in jail, up to 3 years of probation, a maximum fine of $1,000, and have our car impounded for 30 days. You’ll also be responsible for any court fees and costs associated with towing and impounding your car.


In this type of case, you have the burden to prove that you held a valid driver’s license at the time you were ticketed. However, because California’s license system is so automated, it is easy for the court to see whether there was a valid license for you issued at the time.

If you just moved to California, you may be able to prove you were within the 20-day window where you were allowed to use your previous license before obtaining a new one.

Additionally, if you can show you hold a primary residence in another state and have a valid license for that state, you may be able to prove you don’t have to obtain a California license.

How a San Diego Traffic Attorney Can Defend Your Rights

If you’re charged with a misdemeanor but have a previously clean driving record, your attorney may seek to postpone the court date so that you can obtain a valid California driver’s license. Once this is done, your attorney may be able to negotiate your misdemeanor down to an infraction. Even if your San Diego traffic attorney can’t negotiate the charge down from a misdemeanor, they can aggressively defend you in court to prove your innocence or minimize the consequences of a conviction. Call Jessica McElfresh today to learn more about this offense and how you can defend yourself.