What does it mean to “drive without a license” in Tennessee?
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). Driving without a license
is a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable up to 30 days in jail and up to $50 fine. (Tenn.
Codes Annotated § 55-50-351)
license was cancelled, revoked or suspended by the authorities. For first
time offenders, this offense is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and a
maximum of six months in jail. A second offense may be punished by up to one
year in jail and $2,500 in fines.
Who doesn’t have to have a valid Tennessee driver’s license?
Tennessee exempts the following persons from having to
possess a valid Tennessee license:
- Any member of the armed forces while operating a
motor vehicle owned or leased by any branch of the armed services of the United
- Any individual who is operating a CMV for
military purposes, including active duty military personnel; members of the
military reserves; members of the national guard on active duty, including
personnel on full-time national guard duty, personnel on part-time national
guard training, and national guard military technicians (civilians who are
required to wear military uniforms); and active duty United States coast guard
personnel. This exception is not applicable to United States reserve
- Any person while driving or operating any road
machine, farm tractor, or implement of husbandry temporarily operated or moved
on a highway;
- A nonresident who is at least sixteen (16) years
of age and who has in immediate possession a valid driver license issued to the
person in the person's home state or country may operate a motor vehicle in
this state only as a Class D driver;
- A nonresident who is at least twenty-one (21)
years of age and who has in immediate possession a valid license equivalent to
a Tennessee class license issued to the person in the person's home state or
country may operate a motor vehicle of a comparable class in this state;
- A nonresident, who establishes residency in this
state, may operate a motor vehicle in the state for a period not to exceed
thirty (30) days from the date of establishing the residency; provided, that
the nonresident has in the nonresident's immediate possession a valid driver
license issued by another state, or country; and
- In order to facilitate the growth of
international commerce in Tennessee, an individual who is not a citizen of the
United States and who is employed in a managerial or technical position in this
state may, in connection with employment, operate a motor vehicle in this state
for a period up to six (6) months under a valid driver license issued by
another state, country or international body.
- A student who is pursuing an approved driver
training course in a public school or a private secondary school approved by
the commissioner of education or by a recognized regional or national
accrediting agency, or in a duly licensed commercial driver training school.
This exemption applies only to the operation of a motor vehicle bearing school
driver training identification and only while an instructor, certified and
registered by the department of education or licensed by the department of
safety as a driver instructor, accompanies the student; and
- Any active member of the armed forces assigned
to a military installation or base located within this state, and the member's
spouse, who have in their immediate possession a valid driver license issued to
them in their home state or country; provided, that this exemption only applies
if the member of the armed forces has not established Tennessee as the member's
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 Tennessee?
An undocumented immigrant is not permitted to obtain a driver's
license in Tennessee.