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Driving Without a License and California DUI

You've been caught driving without a license... but it's not without hope.

Being arrested for DUI can be doubly frightening when:

  • you do not have a driver's license, or
  • your license has been revoked or suspended.

Driving on a revoked or suspended license is a more serious offense. For information about driving on a suspended license, click here.

This article is about the California offense of driving without a license.

1. What Constitutes Driving Without a License in California?

California Vehicle Code 12500 VC prohibits driving without a valid driver's license.

For purposes of this law, a license is valid if:

  • It is current,
  • It was issued by the state in which you live (not necessarily California), and
  • It is a license for the type of vehicle (car, motorcycle, commercial truck, etc.) you are driving.

You violate Vehicle Code 12500 when you drive in California and:

  • you have never obtained a driver's license in any state,
  • you failed to renew your driver's license after it expired,
  • you established residency in California but failed to obtain a California driver's license, or
  • you are ineligible for a driver's license (because, for example, you are an undocumented immigrant).

2. Driving Without a License in Your Possession Distinguished

California Vehicle Code 12500a VC penalizes driving without a validly issued license... it is not the same as simply driving without a license in your possession.

If you have a valid driver's license... but didn't have it with you when you got stopped... you have committed an infraction under California Vehicle Code 12951.

The infraction will generally be dismissed, however, if and when you provide proof that you were validly licensed at the time of your offense.

3. The Penalty for Driving Without a License in California

Driving a car without a valid license is a California “wobbler” offense. A prosecutor can charge it as either:

  • a criminal misdemeanor, or
  • a non-criminal infraction.

If charged as a non-criminal infraction, driving without a license carries a maximum $250 fine.

As a misdemeanor, driving without a license can be punished by:

  • Informal ("summary") probation for up to three years,
  • Up to six months in county jail,
  • A maximum $1,000 fine, and/or
  • A 30-day impound of your car

Driving any kind of non-commercial vehicle other than a car (e.g., a motorcyle) without a license is always an infraction.

4. Factors Influencing Choice of Misdemeanor or Infraction Charges

People who drive without a license in California will usually be charged with a misdemeanor violation of Vehicle Code 12500a.

The only time you are likely to be charged with an infraction is when:

  • it is your first offense, or
  • you subsequently (and promptly) obtain a valid driver's license.

If, however, you have been charged with DUI, it is highly unlikely that driving without a license will be charged as an infraction.

Even if you have been arrested for DUI... or you are undocumented... our Los Angeles DUI lawyers can help. Through negotiation with the prosecutor, we are often able to get charges of driving without a license reduced to an infraction... or even dropped.

We represent clients throughout Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Contact us for a free consultation to find out how we can help you.

Southern California DUI Defense


DUI cases are rarely hopeless. DUI convictions are almost never inevitable. Clients retain our California DUI defense attorneys for one reason: they want to fight the case. And win.

Contact Us For Help

The police arrested you for DUI. You gave a blood or a breath sample. The DUI officer confiscated you drivers license. The police released you with a notice to appear in court in a few weeks. Where do you go from here? Our lawyers are here to guide you step by step.