North Carolina prohibits driving without a valid license, whether revoked, suspended, or never issued. This article explains what constitutes these violations, the possible penalties, and the exemptions to the license requirement.
Generally, every person who operates a motor vehicle on a North Carolina highway must carry a valid license while driving.
Unlicensed driving (meaning, you don't have a valid license at all) is a class 3 misdemeanor carrying a fine of up to $200. A convicted person may also be sentenced to up to 20 days in jail, depending on his or her criminal history.
Driving without a license (or a license that's been expired for more than one year) also carries three traffic violation demerit points.
A driver who was issued a license but was not carrying it while driving can be convicted of an infraction—often called a "no operator's license" or "NOL" infraction—but can avoid a conviction by presenting proof of a valid license to the court.
A person who operates a vehicle while on a suspended or revoked license is subject to varying penalties depending on the reason for the suspension, the circumstances of the stop, and the number of prior offenses within the last ten years. However, any of these offenses will generally result in three demerit points on your driving record in addition to the other penalties.
Generally, driving while suspended or revoked is a class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $200 and a maximum of 20 days in jail.
A violator whose license was suspended due to an impaired driving incident can be convicted of a class 1 misdemeanor. A conviction carries up to 120 days in jail and a fine of whatever amount the judge decides to be appropriate.
The judge can also prohibit any alcohol consumption for up to 90 days and require an alcohol monitoring system. Finally, the driver's license will be revoked for an additional year for a first offense, an additional two years for a second offense, and permanently for a third offense.
Any time the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles receives a report of a moving violation, it will check to see if the driver had a valid license at the time. If the driver was suspended at the time of the moving violation, the division will suspend the driver's license for a like period of time. If the driver's license was revoked, the revocation period will be extended for one year for a first offense, for two years for a second offense, and permanently for a third offense.
Drivers who choose to drive in violation of license suspensions while also under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol face possible vehicle seizure. And the driver will still be subject to all the other penalties for driving while suspended and for driving while impaired.
In some situations, drivers who have been suspended or revoked can retain at least limited driving privileges. Generally, drivers who wish to have limited driving privileges must apply for a hardship license and show they need to drive for work, school, or some other important purpose.
Non-resident drivers. Non-resident drivers with valid driver's licenses from their home state or country can drive in North Carolina without an in-state license, subject to North Carolina age restrictions.
Farmers and military. Farmers driving farm implements and military personnel driving military vehicles are also exempt.
Moped operators. North Carolina permits all persons 16 years of age and older to operate a moped without a driver's license.