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 charged with an infraction or misdemeanor. Offenses like this are called "wobblers."
As an infraction, these offense carries a maximum fine of $250. Misdemeanor violations carry 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 "wobbler" and can be charged as an infraction or a misdemeanor. An infraction carries a fine of up to $250 and a misdemeanor carries up to six months in jail and a maximum of $1,000 in fines.
Driving with an expired license is the same as driving without a valid license. So, the offense is a wobbler and carries a fine of up to $250 as an infraction and up to six months in jail and a maximum of $1,000 in fines as a misdemeanor.
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.