All states require motorists to have a valid driver’s license when operating a vehicle on a public road. It’s a crime everywhere to drive
- without ever having obtained a license
- with a license that has been suspended, or
- with a license that’s been revoked.
A suspended license is one that has been taken away temporarily. In some situations, the suspension period automatically expires and the license becomes valid again; in other situations, drivers must apply to the issuing agency to reinstate their licenses. A revoked license, on the other hand, has been canceled. A license may be permanently revoked, or for only a set period of time. If the revocation is not permanent, the driver must wait the prescribed time period and then re-apply for a new license.
Drivers must carry their drivers’ licenses and vehicle registrations while operating a vehicle and display them when properly asked by law enforcement. All states require that drivers have automobile insurance or, at a minimum, proof that the driver is able to pay for any damage to people or property that he or she may cause.
It is also a crime to drive in violation of restrictions that have been placed on the driver’s license. For example, a person who may drive only to and from work due to the effects of a driving under the influence conviction violates the law when driving for any other purpose.
Driving without a valid license – whether the driver has a suspended or revoked license, or no license at all – is usually treated as a misdemeanor. In some states, driving without a license is not a crime unless the driving occurs on a public highway. In others the location of the driving is irrelevant.
In all states the driver need not own the vehicle in order to be criminally prosecuted for a license violation. In addition to criminal penalties, most car insurance companies will make it much more costly for a driver to obtain or continue automobile insurance after a license violation.
Presenting Proof of a Valid License
It is also a crime to fail or refuse to display one’s driver’s license on the demand of a police officer. Some states presume that a driver who fails to display his or her license upon a proper request doesn’t have one. However, those states allow the driver to disprove this presumption by presenting an actual, valid license.