Driving without a license: What are the risks?

By Allstate

Last updated: August 2022

Driving a vehicle without a license is illegal and can also be dangerous. Here's are some of the most common ways someone can lose driving privileges and the penalties they may face for driving without a valid driver's license.

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Common ways to lose driving privileges.

Drivers can lose their licenses for a variety of reasons. For example, California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will suspend a license for:

  • Not having car insurance.
  • Being convicted for driving under the influence.
  • Failing to pay child support.
  • Drinking while underage.

Taking a hard stance against driving under the influence, every state in the country has agreed to strict penalties for anyone found driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 or more, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For example, the California DMV states that first-time offenders who fail breath or chemical tests in California can have their licenses suspended for four months. A second offense may result in a one-year suspension. Similarly, Michigan drivers face up to a year suspension for a first conviction under their anti-drunk and drugged driving laws, according to the Michigan State Police. A second offense requires jail time and/or community service, while a third offense will be treated as a felony.

For information on your state's laws, check with your secretary of state or department of motor vehicles. The Governors Highway Safety Association also provides a full list of rules by state.

What's the difference between a suspended and revoked license?

There are legal differences between a suspended and a revoked driver's license, according to the North Carolina DMV:

  • Suspended license. Driving privileges are withdrawn for a certain amount of time and may be reinstated after the suspension. The reasons for a suspension will vary by state. For example, the Georgia Department of Driver Services assigns points to a driver's record once they're convicted of certain offenses, like reckless driving or driving while texting. After a certain point limit, the driver's license will be suspended.
  • Revoked license. License revocation usually means driving privileges are terminated, says the North Carolina DMV. A revoked license is often because of a more serious offense or multiple offenses. A driver will have to reapply for a license after meeting the requirements outlined by their state.

What happens to my car insurance if my driving privileges are suspended or revoked?

Your insurance company may cancel your policy if your license or the license of any insured person in your household is suspended or revoked for any reason, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).

Insurance companies often work with the state DMVs to notify them once your policy is canceled, says the III. If your policy is cancelled and you can't find active coverage (or choose not to), the state may require you to turn in your car's tags and surrender driving privileges. You'll need to find new coverage as soon as your license is reinstated.

How can I get my driver's license reinstated?

Your state's rules will dictate what you need to do to get your driver's license reinstated after it if was suspended or revoked. Once your suspension or revocation time is almost over, Investopia says these steps may help the process along:

  • Read your suspension/revocation notice to make sure you have complied with all conditions for reinstatement.
  • Take a driving class.
  • Pay any fees related to your loss of driving privileges.
  • Be sure you know the steps for reinstatement.

You may also need to obtain an SR-22 from your auto insurance company to prove you're meeting your state's minimum auto liability requirements.

Loaning your car to unlicensed drivers

Car insurance generally follows the car and not the driver, according to the III. This means that your auto insurance policy will typically provide coverage if a family member or friend is driving your car with permission. However, if an unlicensed friend or family member borrows your car, you may be held responsible for damage or medical costs result from an accident. Your car insurance company may deny the claim because an unlicensed driver was driving.