California prohibits driving without a license and driving in violation of license restrictions. This article explains what constitutes these violations, the possible penalties, and the exemptions to the licensing rule.
Save a few exceptions, all persons operating a motor vehicle in California must possess a valid driver's license.
A licensed driver who doesn't have physical possession of his or her license while driving can be convicted of a misdemeanor and face up to six months in jail and a maximum of $1,000 in fines. However, the judge will generally dismiss a first or second offense if the driver can show a valid license before the court date.
Driving without a license (meaning the driver doesn't hold a valid license) is a misdemeanor and carries up to six months in jail and a maximum $1,000 in fines.
Documented immigrants can obtain a license from the Diplomatic Motor Vehicle Office of the Office of Foreign Missions. And California permits undocumented immigrants and those without social security numbers to obtain a valid driver's license by providing certain residency documents.
Non-resident drivers with valid driver's licenses from their home state can drive in the state without a California license, subject to California's age restrictions. New residents have 30 days to obtain a California license. Certain farm equipment, federally-owned vehicles, and off-highway vehicles are also exempt from the normal driver's license requirements.
A person who operates a vehicle with a suspended or revoked license or in violation of license restrictions (such as an ignition interlock requirement) will be subject to jail time, fines, and license-related penalties.
A motorist who gets caught driving while his or her license is suspended or revoked due to a reckless driving conviction will face five days to six months in jail and fines of $300 to $1,000. A subsequent conviction within five years will result in ten days to one year in jail and $500 to $2,000 in fines.
Typically, a DUI (driving under the influence) conviction will result in license suspension followed by an ignition interlock device (IID) restriction. Driving while suspended for a DUI or in violation of the IID restriction carries ten days to six months in jail and $300 to $1,000 in fines. A second offense in five years will result in 30 days to one year in jail and $500 to $2,000 in fines. After license reinstatement, the driver must also maintain an IID for up to three additional years.
Under California's implied consent law, drivers who are lawfully arrested for a DUI can be suspended for failing or refusing to take a breathalyzer or blood test. A driver who operates during this suspension will face up to six months in jail and/or $300 to $1,000 in fines. A second offense in five years will result in ten days to one year in jail and $500 to $2,000 in fines. The court will also order an IID restriction for up to three years.
A motorist who gets caught operating a vehicle while suspended for any other reason will face up to six months in jail and/or $300 to $1,000 in fines. A subsequent offense within five years will result in five days to one year in jail and $500 to $2,000 in fines.