South Carolina prohibits driving without a valid license—whether the person was driving on a licensed that was suspended or not reinstated or without ever having been issued a license. This article explains what constitutes these violations, the possible penalties, and the exemptions to the rule.
Every person who operates a motor vehicle on a South Carolina highway generally must possess and be able to display a valid driver’s license.
Driving without a valid license. Unlicensed driving (meaning the driver was never issued a license) is a misdemeanor, punishable by a $50 to $150 fine or 30 days in jail. A second offense carries a $500 fine, 45 days in jail, or both. A third offense will result in 45 days to six months in jail.
License not in possession. All licensed drivers are required to possess, and upon request by a police officer, display a valid driver’s license while driving. A violation is a misdemeanor, carrying a fine of up to $100 or a maximum 30 days in jail. However, dismissal of the charge is possible if the driver presents a then-valid license prior to the court date.
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 a South Carolina license. Drivers from other states must be at least 16 years old and drivers from other countries (with similar licensing laws) must be at least 18 years old. (Learn more about South Carolina’s teen driving laws.) Non-residents from countries that do not require driver’s licenses may drive in South Carolina for up to 90 days. U.S. employees in U.S. vehicles and farmers in farm machinery are exempt from licensing requirements.
A person who operates a vehicle while on a suspended or revoked license may face jail time, fines, and extended license sanctions. The specific penalties depend on the number of prior offenses the driver has that occurred within the last five years.
Suspended. Generally, driving while suspended is a misdemeanor, punishable by:
DUI-related suspension. A driver whose license was suspended or revoked due to a DUI (driving under the influence) offense will face increased penalties of:
Extended sanctions. If the driver was caught driving on a suspended license, the suspension will be extended for a like period of time (the same as the original suspension). However, a route-restricted license might be available to the driver. If the driver was cited for driving on a revoked license, the revocation will be extended for one year. A suspension due to failure to pay traffic tickets will only be extended for 30 days.
Non-resident. Any non-resident who has been convicted of a crime that requires license suspension or revocation is prohibited from driving in South Carolina. Operation of a vehicle under these circumstances is a misdemeanor, punishable by a $150 fine or 30 days in jail. The driver’s license will also be suspended for a like period of time.
All driving-while-suspended violations result in a $100 public safety fee.
Restricted license. Drivers who violate the limitations of a restricted license are guilty of a misdemeanor. A violation carries a fine of up to $100 or a maximum 30 days in jail.