Driving Without a License in Washington

What does it mean to drive while your license is expired, revoked, suspended or cancelled in Washington?

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 fine.)
  • 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)
  • Your 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 country.
  • 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.



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