What does it mean to “drive without a license” in Washington?
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). Washington law
provides that, “No person may drive a motor vehicle upon a highway in this
state without first obtaining a valid driver's license issued to Washington
residents under this chapter.” Further, under Washington law,
“it is a misdemeanor for a person to drive any motor vehicle upon a highway in
this state without a valid driver's license …” Violators are subject to a
penalty of $250. (RCW 46.20.015)
license was cancelled, revoked or suspended by the authorities. For first
time offenders whose suspension was not due to DUI or gross negligence, the
offense is classified as Driving Without a License 3rd Degree (DWLS
3rd) a misdemeanor that carries a maximum of 90 days in jail
and a $1000 fine. If the suspension is for more serious reasons (DWLS 2d) such as a DUI, it
is punishable by a fine of up to $5000 and a maximum jail sentence of 364 days.
Who doesn’t have to have a valid Washington driver’s license?
Washington exempts the following persons from having to
possess a valid Washington license:
- A member of the United States Army, Navy, Air
Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, or in the service of the National Guard of
this state or any other state, if licensed by the military to operate an
official motor vehicle in such service;
- A nonresident driver who is at least sixteen years
of age and has immediate possession of a valid driver's license issued to the
driver by his or her home state; or sixteen years of age and has immediate
possession of a valid driver's license issued to the driver by his or her home
- Any person operating special highway
construction equipment as defined in RCW 46.04.551;
- Any person while driving or operating any farm
tractor or implement of husbandry that is only incidentally operated or moved
over a highway; or
- An operator of a locomotive upon rails,
including a railroad crossing over a public highway. A locomotive operator is
not required to display a driver's license to any law enforcement officer in
connection with the operation of a locomotive or train within this state.
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 Washington?
An undocumented immigrant can obtain a driver’s license
provided that the individual can furnish the documentation required by the Washington State
Department of Licensing.