Driving Without A Valid California License? You Could Be Facing Severe Penalties!

While a person may lose their driving privileges as a result of a DUI arrest or conviction, a person can also lose their driver’s license for other reasons. For example, the DMV may suspend a person’s license for a failure to appear in court, for being diagnosed with a medical condition a doctor that is required to be reported, for being designated as a negligent operator, and so on.

San Diego is a difficult place to get around without a driver’s license! Public transportation is often an unreliable or unrealistic option. Taking a taxi, Uber, or Lyft can get expensive over time.  Most people do not work within walking or biking distance from their home.  If you have children who require transportation, the loss of a driver’s license complicates things even more!

For this reason, many people choose to drive when they do not have a valid California license, when their license is suspended, or even if their license is revoked!  Depending on the status of a person’s license, this conduct varies in its seriousness and in its consequences.

Vehicle Code section 12951 - Failure to Present a Drivers License

revoked California drivers license

This vehicle code mandates that drivers keep their license on them at all times.  A licensed driver will be cited for this violation if, when stopped, they are unable to produce their license to the officer.

This is often a correctable violation, otherwise known as a "fix-it" ticket, which means that if a driver shows the court that he or she is in fact lawfully licensed, the ticket is dismissed and there will be a nominal fee- usually about $25.

This violation is not considered very serious, though to avoid the hassle of the officer taking extra time to verify your identity or going to court to prove possession of a license, it is a wise practice for a driver to keep a license with him or her when driving.


With Attorney Jennifer Gerstenzang

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FAQ driving on suspended license


More Information: Frequently Asked Questions About Driving on a Suspended License

Vehicle Code section 12500 – Driving without a License

Pursuant to this vehicle code, it is a crime to drive a vehicle in California without a valid license.  Drivers cited for this violation are often individuals who never obtained a driver’s license, who have allowed their license to expire, or who have moved to California from another state or country and never obtained a California Driver’s license.  (California DMV requires an individual to apply for a California driver’s license within ten days of becoming a resident of the state.)

This violation is a wobbler, so it can be charged as either an infraction or a misdemeanor.  Often, if a person is cited for an infraction for their first offense and is later cited for the same offense, the second and subsequent offenses will be prosecuted as a misdemeanor. This violation may also be treated as a "fix-it" ticket if you obtain a valid license between the citation date and the court date.

The consequences get much more severe if a person drives while their license is suspended or revoked. Vehicle Code section 14601 outlines the various ways a person may break this law and their corresponding punishment.

Vehicle Code section 14601 et. seq., - Driving on a Suspended License or a Revoked License

This code details the different consequences for a driver who operates a vehicle while their license is suspended.  For example, Vehicle Code section 14601.2 specifically discusses the consequences for an individual whose license is suspended for a prior DUI and section 14601.5 discusses he consequences when the license suspension is for refusing a chemical test or having an excessive (.15 or greater) blood alcohol content (BAC) while driving.

The consequences vary depending on the reason your license is suspended and the number of times you have driven on a suspended license.

The punishments can be harsh. A person could be ordered to serve mandatory jail time, have their vehicle impounded with a 30- day to 6-month hold (meaning you cannot pay to have it released to you until the hold is over) and your vehicle may even be forfeited.

While driving on a suspended license sounds as if it would be a traffic infraction, it is actually a wobbler, so it can be charged as a misdemeanor or infraction. In other words, you could be on informal probation for up to three years if convicted in addition to the other punishments.

There are various defenses available to driving on a suspended license charges. To avoid the charges altogether, make sure you know the status of your license before driving.