Driving with an expired driver's license

What Happens if You Drive With an Expired Driver’s License or None at All?

by Zutobi · Updated Feb 24, 2022

In the United States, about tens of thousands of people are killed in roadside accidents every year. To reduce this risk, every state requires proof that you know how to operate a vehicle safely according to their guidelines, aka your license! Driving without a license can wrack up severe penalties.

It’s not just about letting your license expire either! You can also wrack up penalties if you drive:

  1. Without ever attaining a permit or license
  2. When your license is revoked or suspended
  3. Without your license in the vehicle with you
  4. If you move to a new state and do not apply for a new license in the time limit.

Can I Drive With an Expired License?

Driving without a license or with an expired license is a gamble and should NOT be done. All state laws require drivers to have a license whenever they operate a vehicle on a public road. If you are caught, you could face a driving ticket and a variety of other penalties.

Lesser punishments include fines and having points added to your driving record.

Some states also:

  • Fine you up to $250, depending on the state and the circumstances- such as how long your license has been expired
  • Add points to your driving record, if applicable
  • Arrest you
  • Impound your vehicle
  • Every state requires you to retake your written, vision, and eye exams if you wait too long to renew your license

On top of that, your insurance agency might raise your premiums for years afterward. Worse, if you were in an accident with an expired license, they could deny your claims.

Two cars involved in a traffic accident
Your insurance company may deny your claims if you are involved in an accident with an expired license.

What if It’s a First-Time Offense?

It depends on the circumstance. If your license recently expired and you have a clean record, the citing officer might let you off with a warning at their discretion. However, they are not legally obligated to do so. In fact, some states like Arkansas guarantee you will get a ticket if you drive with an expired license.

Here are a few other factors to consider:

  • If you have multiple other offenses on your record, they will also be taken into account. Depending on the state and your record, you could face increased fines, suspension of your license (and driving privileges), and jail time.
  • If you recently moved, your license is unexpired, but you are outside the grace period: Depending on your state and situation, the citing officer might issue you a ‘fix-it’ ticket. The fix-it ticket will require you to go to provide proof that you fix this issue in a timely manner. If you do so, some or all of the penalty fees might be dropped.
  • If your license is revoked or suspended, expect to receive a heavy fine and a court date. You may also be arrested on the spot.
  • If you never had a license, you may be charged with a misdemeanor. The penalties will vary by state.

What if I Just Forgot My License at Home?

This varies, but some citing officers will be lenient if you have a clean record. You may get off with a warning, a small fine, or a ‘fix it” ticket. If you do get a fix-it ticket, you will need to produce proof of your license to have some or all your charges and penalties dropped.

Keep in mind that this is at the citing officer’s discretion. They are not obligated to give you a warning or fix-it ticket. Being polite and cooperative works in your favor here.

This is not an excuse to be forgetful. Some states have heavy monetary or jail-time penalties if this happens multiple times.

Police stopping a driver
If you forget your license at home, you may get a fix-it ticket. You will then need to produce proof of your license to have some or all your charges and penalties dropped.

What if I Get a DUI With an Expired License?

If you get a DUI (Drinking Under Influence) when you drive with an expired license, you will have two separate charges: DUI and unlicensed driving. Each will carry its own penalties based on state laws.

If you drive without a valid license, some states will elevate your DUI to an Aggravated DUI. Depending on the state and your record, this can come with heavier penalties, fines, and jail time.Some states like New York also elevate your Unlicensed driving citation to Aggravated Unlicensed Operation (AUO) of a vehicle, which comes with far heavier fines and jail time. A First-degree AUO is a Class E felony with up to four years in prison!

How Do I Renew My Driver’s License?

In most cases, you can go to your local DMV and submit a renewal form. Some states also offer mail-in and online options as well! You can find your state-specific information here to start your renewal process.

The process itself will be similar to when you got your first license. You will apply to your local DMV online, by mail, or in person. You will prove your identity. Pay any outstanding fees. Get your picture and thumbprint taken. 

In some cases, you might have to take the written and behind-the-wheel exams again. As long as you have satisfied all their criteria for when you were without a license, you will walk out with a new license– or a temporary one if they do not print cards on site.

expired driver's license
Renew your license before it expires!

Tips for License Renewal

Here are our best 6 tips for driver’s license renewal:

  • Renewal times, grace periods, and fees vary state-to-state and sometimes even county to county. Make sure to contact your local office for details.If your license is expired for too long, you may need to take your written and behind-the-wheel exams again. Handy online resources like our summarized DMV Handbooks and practice tests can help you pass the first time!
  • If you moved addresses, you have to update your information with the DMV before you can renew your license.You must pay all pending balances before you can renew your license. This includes parking tickets, driving citations, and other unpaid fines.
  • If your license is revoked or suspended, you will have to get it reinstated before you can renew your license. The DMV will send out a notice when your suspension period ends, so you will need to keep up with the date yourself or look up your driving records. If you move during your suspension period, you may need a letter of clearance from your former DMV for reinstated.
  • If your license is suspended during a DUI hearing, some states will issue a temporary permit that expires on your court date. The process will vary by state, but in general, you need to complete the full term of your suspension and any terms the court gives you before you can reinstate your original license.

When it comes to driving with an expired license, the risks are not worth it. Taking the time to renew is a lot less hassle than penalties, jail time, and other misfortunes if you are caught. If you are driving without a valid license, we heartily encourage you to check out your local DMV.

Are you hesitating because the written test looks daunting? Check out our state-specific summarized DMV guides and practice tests! We’ll help you pass the DMV exams on your first try!

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