Driving Without a License in Tennessee
What does it mean to drive while your license is expired, revoked, suspended or cancelled in Tennessee?
What does it mean to “drive without a license” in Tennessee?
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). Driving without a license is a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable up to 30 days in jail and up to $50 fine. (Tenn. Codes Annotated § 55-50-351)
- Your license was cancelled, revoked or suspended by the authorities. For first time offenders, this offense is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and a maximum of six months in jail. A second offense may be punished by up to one year in jail and $2,500 in fines.
Who doesn’t have to have a valid Tennessee driver’s license?
Tennessee exempts the following persons from having to possess a valid Tennessee license:
- Any member of the armed forces while operating a motor vehicle owned or leased by any branch of the armed services of the United States;
- Any individual who is operating a CMV for military purposes, including active duty military personnel; members of the military reserves; members of the national guard on active duty, including personnel on full-time national guard duty, personnel on part-time national guard training, and national guard military technicians (civilians who are required to wear military uniforms); and active duty United States coast guard personnel. This exception is not applicable to United States reserve technicians;
- Any person while driving or operating any road machine, farm tractor, or implement of husbandry temporarily operated or moved on a highway;
- A nonresident who is at least sixteen (16) years of age and who has in immediate possession a valid driver license issued to the person in the person's home state or country may operate a motor vehicle in this state only as a Class D driver;
- A nonresident who is at least twenty-one (21) years of age and who has in immediate possession a valid license equivalent to a Tennessee class license issued to the person in the person's home state or country may operate a motor vehicle of a comparable class in this state;
- A nonresident, who establishes residency in this state, may operate a motor vehicle in the state for a period not to exceed thirty (30) days from the date of establishing the residency; provided, that the nonresident has in the nonresident's immediate possession a valid driver license issued by another state, or country; and
- In order to facilitate the growth of international commerce in Tennessee, an individual who is not a citizen of the United States and who is employed in a managerial or technical position in this state may, in connection with employment, operate a motor vehicle in this state for a period up to six (6) months under a valid driver license issued by another state, country or international body.
- A student who is pursuing an approved driver training course in a public school or a private secondary school approved by the commissioner of education or by a recognized regional or national accrediting agency, or in a duly licensed commercial driver training school. This exemption applies only to the operation of a motor vehicle bearing school driver training identification and only while an instructor, certified and registered by the department of education or licensed by the department of safety as a driver instructor, accompanies the student; and
- Any active member of the armed forces assigned to a military installation or base located within this state, and the member's spouse, who have in their immediate possession a valid driver license issued to them in their home state or country; provided, that this exemption only applies if the member of the armed forces has not established Tennessee as the member's domicile.
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 have 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 Tennessee?
An undocumented immigrant is not permitted to obtain a driver's license in Tennessee.