Ohio prohibits driving without a valid license—suspended, not reinstated, or never issued. This article explains what constitutes these violations, the possible penalties, and the exemptions to the rule.
Every person who operates a motor vehicle on an Ohio highway generally must possess and be able to display a valid driver’s license.
Driving without a valid license. Unlicensed driving (meaning the driver never issued a license) is an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and/or a maximum 500 hours community service. A second offense within three years is a first-degree misdemeanor and carries up to 180 days in jail and/or a maximum $1,000 fine
License not in possession. A driver who was licensed but did not have the license in his or her immediate possession may be able to get the charge dismissed. Presentation of a driver’s license that was valid at the time of the citation is a valid defense to a driving-without-a-license charge.
Exceptions. A non-resident driver with a valid driver’s license from his or her home state or country can drive in the state without an Ohio license, subject to Ohio age restrictions. Farmers driving machinery under 25 miles per hour and military personnel in official vehicles are also exempt from Ohio’s licensing requirements.
A person who operates a vehicle while on a suspended or revoked license may face jail time, fines, and an extended license suspension.
Suspended. Generally, driving while suspended is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.
For a second offense within three years, the court can immobilize the driver’s vehicle and impound the license plate for 30 days. This penalty becomes 60 days for a third offense within three years. And a fourth offense within three years can lead to vehicle forfeiture.
Failure to reinstate. A driver whose suspension ended but has failed to reinstate his or her license will not be subject to jail time. Instead, he or she will be fined up to $1,000 and/or required to a maximum of 500 hours of community service.
OVI-related. Driving while suspended carries increased penalties if the suspension was related to an OVI (operating a vehicle under the influence) incident. Convicted persons must serve at least three days in jail, with a maximum of six months. The court will also order the motorist to pay a $250 to $1,000 fine and immobilize and impound the vehicle for 30 days.
A second offense within a six-year period carries ten days to one year in jail and a $500 to $2,500 fine. The court will also immobilize the vehicle and impound the license plates for 60 days. For a third offense within six years, the driver will face 30 days to one year in jail, a $500 to $2,500 fine, and vehicle forfeiture.
All convictions for driving while suspended will result in an additional license suspension of up to one year.