Driving Without a License in Illinois

What does it mean to drive while your license is expired, revoked, suspended or cancelled?

What does it mean to “drive without a license” in Illinois?

Driving without a license can refer to three scenarios. You’re stopped for an offense and:

  • You have a license but it’s not in your possession. In other words, you were licensed to drive but lacked proof, an infraction that may be dismissed once you can prove that you possessed a valid license at the time of the incident. (Note: you may have to pay a fine.)
  • You never applied for a license (or your license expired). Illinois Code Section Sec. 6-101 states that, "No person shall drive any motor vehicle upon a highway in this State unless such person has a valid license or permit, or a restricted driving permit, issued under the provisions of this Act." Depending on the circumstances, you may be charged with a petty offense (up to $500 in fines) or as a Class B misdemeanor. 
  • Your license was cancelled, revoked or suspended by the authorities. This offense is usually punishable as a Class A misdemeanor. (625 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 6-303(a).) The maximum penalties for a Class A misdemeanor may include a $2,500 fine, and up to a year in jail. Note, you may be charged with a felony (under 625 ILCS 5/11-501 (d) (1) (G)), if you were arrested for a DUI and your license had been suspended for a DUI.

Who doesn’t have to have a valid Illinois driver’s license?

Illinois exempts the following persons from having to possess a valid Illinois license (Illinois Code Section Sec. 6-102):

  • Any employee of the United States Government or any member of the Armed Forces of the United States, while operating a motor vehicle owned by or leased to the United States Government and being operated on official business need not be licensed.
  • A nonresident who has in his immediate possession a valid license issued to him in his home state or country may operate a motor vehicle for which he is licensed for the period during which he is in this State;
  • A nonresident and his spouse and children living with him who is a student at a college or university in Illinois who have a valid license issued by their home State.
  • A person operating a road machine temporarily upon a highway or operating a farm tractor between the home farm buildings and any adjacent or nearby farm land for the exclusive purpose of conducting farm operations need not be licensed as a driver.
  • A resident of this State who has been serving as a member of the Armed Forces of the United States outside the Continental limits of the United States, for a period of 120 days following his return to the continental limits of the United States.
  • A nonresident on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States who has a valid license issued by his home state and such nonresident's spouse, and dependent children and living with parents, who have a valid license issued by their home state.
  • A nonresident who becomes a resident of this State, may for a period of the first 90 days of residence in Illinois operate any motor vehicle which he was qualified or licensed to drive by his home state or country so long as he has in his possession, a valid and current license issued to him by his home state or country. Upon expiration of such 90 day period, such new resident must comply with the provisions of this Act and apply for an Illinois license or permit.
  • An engineer, conductor, brakeman, or any other member of the crew of a locomotive or train being operated upon rails, including operation on a railroad crossing over a public street, road or highway. Such person is not required to display a driver's license to any law enforcement officer in connection with the operation of a locomotive or train within this State.

How do you fight the charge?

Fighting a “driving without a license charge” can be difficult. Once the district attorney or prosecutor alleges that you drove without a valid license, the burden of proof is on you to prove that you did possess a valid driver’s license at the time of your offense. If you don’t evidence of a license, you lose! Depending on your circumstances, you may benefit from the advice or negotiating skills of an attorney.

Can an undocumented immigrant obtain a driver’s license in Illinois?

Since 2013, Illinois has a program that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a "temporary" license that is good for up to three years.


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