What does it mean to “drive without a license” in South Carolina?
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
- You never
applied for a license (or your license expired). S.C. Statutes § 56-1-20
states that no person shall drive any motor vehicle upon a highway in South
Carolina unless that person has a valid motor vehicle driver's license.
Violators are typically fined under $200.
license was cancelled, revoked or suspended by the authorities. For first
time offenders, this offense is punishable by a fine of up to $300 and may be
sentenced up to a maximum of 30 days jail time. If the suspension is DUI-related,
a first offense carries a fine or imprisonment of between 10 and 30 days.
Who doesn’t have to have a valid South Carolina driver’s license?
South Carolina exempts (S.C. Statutes § 56-1-30) the
following persons from having to possess a valid South Carolina license:
- Any employee of the United States Government
while operating a motor vehicle owned by or leased to the United States
Government and being operated on official business, unless the employee is
required by the United States Government or the Federal agency by which he is
employed to have a State driver's license;
- A nonresident who is at least sixteen years of
age and who has in his immediate possession a valid operator's or chauffeur's
license issued to him in his home state or country may operate a motor vehicle,
but a person may not claim nonresidence exemption under this provision who does
not maintain a permanent residence address in the state or country of which he
holds a valid and current operator's or chauffeur's license at which he
regularly receives his mail and which address is on file with the motor vehicle
authorities of that state or country; also, a person may not claim nonresidence
exemption under this provision who for all other intents and purposes has or
may remove his residence into this State;
- Any nonresident who is at least eighteen years
of age and whose home state or country does not require the licensing of
operators may operate a motor vehicle for a period of not more than ninety days
in any calendar year, if the motor vehicle is duly registered in the home state
or country of the nonresident and a nonresident on active duty in the Armed
Services of the United States who has a valid license issued by his home state
and the nonresident's spouse or dependent who has a valid license issued by his
- A person operating or driving implements of
husbandry temporarily drawn, propelled, or moved upon a highway. Implements of
husbandry include, but are not limited to, farm machinery and farm equipment
other than a passenger car.
- Any person on active duty in the Armed Services
of the United States who has in his immediate possession a valid driver's
license issued in a foreign country or by the Armed Services of the United
States may operate a motor vehicle in this State for a period of not more than
ninety days from the date of his return to the United States; and
- A citizen of a foreign jurisdiction whose
licensing procedure is at least as strict as South Carolina's, as determined by
the Department of Motor Vehicles, who is at least eighteen years of age, who is
employed in South Carolina, and who has a valid driver's license issued by that
jurisdiction may drive in this State for five years if the foreign jurisdiction
provides a reciprocal arrangement for South Carolina residents. The provisions
of this item also shall apply to the dependents of foreign nationals who
qualify under this section
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 South Carolina?
An undocumented immigrant is not permitted to obtain a driver's
license in South Carolina.