Tennessee prohibits driving without a license and driving while one’s license is canceled, revoked, or suspended. This article explains what constitutes these violations, the possible penalties, and the exemptions to the rule.
Generally, every person who operates a motor vehicle on a Tennessee highway must possess and be able to display a valid driver’s license.
License not in possession. Any driver who does not carry his or her license or refuses to display a license to a requesting officer can be convicted of a class C misdemeanor. A conviction carries up to 30 days in jail and/or a maximum fine of $50. Motorists who are cited for a violation but subsequently go to the police department and show a valid license can avoid a conviction.
Driving without a valid license. Unlicensed driving (meaning the person simply never obtained a license) is a class C misdemeanor, carrying a maximum fine of $50 and/or up to 30 days jail.
Exceptions. Non-resident drivers with valid driver’s licenses from their home state or country can drive in the state without a Tennessee license, subject to Tennessee age restrictions. However, new residents must obtain a Tennessee license within 30 days of residency. Non-citizens who are employed in technical or managerial employment have six months to obtain licensure.
Military personnel in military vehicles, road workers in road machinery, and farmers in tractors are exempt from the licensing requirements. Driver’s education students do not need a license when driving on a driver’s education course under the supervision of a licensed instructor. Finally, passengers in automated driving system (ADS) vehicles are not required to hold a driver’s license.
A person who operates a vehicle while on a restrained license (suspended, restricted, or revoked) will be subject to jail time, fines, and possible vehicle seizure.
Driving while suspended. Driving while suspended, revoked, or canceled is a class B misdemeanor. A conviction carries up to six months in jail and/or a maximum $500 fine. A second offense within ten years is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail and/or a maximum $2,500 fine.
DUI-related. A driver who is suspended due to a DUI, vehicular assault, or vehicular manslaughter conviction and is caught operating a vehicle can be convicted of a class B misdemeanor. A conviction carries two days to six months in jail and a possible fine of up to $1,000. A driver who’s arrested for driving while revoked for a second DUI, second vehicular assault, or second vehicular manslaughter conviction must serve 45 days to one year in jail and pay a fine of up to $3,000.
Drivers who operate a vehicle while suspended for one of these serious offenses also face possible vehicle seizure and forfeiture.