Driving without a license in the state of California is a crime that shouldn’t be taken lightly; this offense includes driving without ever having obtained a license, driving with a suspended or revoked license, and of course driving with a valid license but neglecting to have it with you (don’t make this easy mistake).
If you do have a license and just failed to bring it along the ride, you’re likely going to be charged an infraction under California Vehicle Code Section 12951. Once you prove to the court that you do have a valid license, the charge is dismissed and it will not go on your record as a criminal violation. However, you’re not let off the hook THAT easy. Fines for infractions can be up to $250, not including fees.
Driving without a license is not the same crime as driving with a suspended or revoked license- a much more serious act. If your license was cancelled, revoked or suspended by authorities, you will be charged with a misdemeanor. Under vehicle code 14601, this means you may be subject to imprisonment in a county jail for no less than five days and no more than six months and a fine of no less than $300 and no more than $1000. You may also be penalized with up to three years of informal probation or up to 30 days of car impoundment. If your car is impounded, you are subject to paying both the towing and impoundment fees for 30 days which could add up to over $1,000- in some cases, the car could be forfeited and sold at an auction. One example of someone driving on a suspended or revoked license would be a driver who is currently suspended for a DUI conviction. This offense carries a minimum jail sentence of 10 days for a first sentence and 30 days for a second, as well as an installation of an Ignition Interlock Device inside the offender’s vehicle.
If you are driving with an expired license, you may get charged with a misdemeanor but often times prosecutors are willing to reduce the penalty to an infraction if you’re able to get a new license in a reasonable period of time. This crime includes recent transplants from out of state, since California requires you to obtain a California license even if your previous home state license is still valid. If a Texan moves to California (who would ever do that, right?)
and continues to drive with his or her Texas license, the driver will be charged with driving without a license. But this case would likely be reduced to an infraction if the driver could obtain a new CA license within 20 days.
Driving without a valid license (whether you’re not old enough or just never got around to taking the test) is likely to result in a more serious crime than an infraction, but again first time offenders will always have it a little easier. The best solution in any of these cases, is to 1) make sure your license has not expired 2) make sure you carry it with you whenever you’re about to hop in the car and 3) follow any rules when you are on suspension to avoid further punishments. You earned that license once, don’t let that privilege be taken away with careless mistake. Just call a friend if you need a lift!