In Virginia—as in most states—it is unlawful to operate any motorized vehicle without a valid driver’s license.
Driving without a license in Virginia can cause you a lot of legal problems.
Specifically, driving a motor vehicle in Virginia is considered a privilege, not a right.
To fully protect yourself on the road, you need to understand the consequences of driving without a license in Virginia.
Driving Without a License in Virginia: The Basics
Driving without a license is a crime in Virginia, and is punished with both fines and possibly even jail time.
If you are currently driving without a license, you should take steps to apply for one at your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) as soon as possible.
In order to hold a Virginia Driver’s License, you need to meet certain requirements.
For example, you need to be a Virginia resident and complete a DMV-approved driver’s education course or hold a Virginia learner’s permit for 60 days or longer.
Also remember that drivers under the age of 18 have different requirements.
Penalties for Driving Without a License in Virginia
The first offense of driving without a license is a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by a jail sentence of up to 6 months and a fine of no more than $1,000.
A second offense is a more serious Class 1 misdemeanor.
This is a crime punishable by a jail sentence of up to 12 months, as well as a maximum fine of up to $2,500.
Other consequences apply in cases involving undocumented persons or people operating a class A-C vehicle without a CDL license.
Additional Penalties for Driving Without a License
In addition to the consequences noted above, the court can also suspend your privilege to drive for up to 90 days.
If you have previously been convicted of driving without a license (or with a suspended license), the arresting officer may also impound your car for up to 30 days.
The judge in your case can also extend this impoundment as they see fit.
You may also have to pay additional fines based on the jurisdiction you were arrested in.
For example, in the City of Richmond, you can be charged as much as $125 towing in towing fees, a $30 administrative fee, and up to $35 per 24 hour period.
In other jurisdictions, the fees can be even higher.
You should also note that many towing and impound lots only take cash.
Driving on a Suspended or Revoked License
There are several different ways to lose your driving privileges in Virginia, ranging from traffic crimes to more serious criminal offenses such as possession of marijuana.
In certain situations, a judge may decide to suspend or revoke your driving privileges for a certain period of time, usually between 3 and 12 months.
If you choose to drive during this period, an officer may charge you with driving on a suspended or revoked license.
Penalties for Driving on a Suspended or Revoked License
There are actually several differences between driving without a license and driving on a suspended or revoked license.
The largest difference is that, in practice, you will often face harsher penalties for driving on a suspended or revoked license than you will for driving without a license.
While a first offense of driving without a license is a Class 2 misdemeanor as noted above, the first offense of driving on a suspended or revoked license is actually a Class 1 misdemeanor.
The court will also re-suspend your license for the same period of time for which it had previously been suspended or revoked.
You should also note that judges generally treat this crime as a more serious offense than simply driving without a license.
For this reason, there is a higher chance of receiving harsher penalties if you are caught driving on a suspended or revoked license.
This is especially true for offenders who lost their driving privileges due to prior traffic offenses, such as a DUI or reckless driving.
A Note for Immigrants who are Charged With Driving on a Suspended or Revoked License
For several reasons, it’s common for immigrants to be charged with driving on a suspended or revoked license in Virginia.
Since for a first offense you can usually resolve this matter by paying a fine through the Virginia Court’s website, many immigrants effectively plead guilty to this crime without fully understanding the effects of their actions.
Further, officers may sometimes charge immigrants with driving on a suspended or revoked license, despite the fact that the immigrant never had a license in the first place.
This can lead to individuals ending up in jail after paying what they believe to be a simple traffic ticket, largely due to misunderstandings surrounding what they were actually charged with.
For all of these reasons, it’s important for immigrants to mention any traffic stops or arrests to their attorney immediately in order to mitigate any effects the arrest might have on immigration status.
The Restricted Driver’s License: A Possible Solution
As noted above, individuals who have never held a Virginia driver’s license can simply apply for one at their local DMV.
However, if your license was suspended or revoked after an encounter with the court, you may have to try a different approach.
Specifically, individuals with suspended or revoked licenses can petition the court for a restricted driver’s license depending on the reason for the initial suspension or revocation.
This is a limited type of license which allows you to drive to certain court-approved locations, such as work, school, or medical appointments.
There are several ways to apply for a restricted driver’s license in Virginia.
For example, depending on your case, it could be as easy as submitting some paperwork with your local courthouse or as difficult as formally petitioning for a restricted license in a Circuit Court.
Regardless of which path you choose, remember that driving is a privilege in Virginia, not a right. The judge can choose to deny your application for any or even no reason.
Further, remember that having a revoked license means you’ve lost your driving privileges entirely, and must re-apply from scratch at your local DMV office.
When You Don’t Need a License to Drive
Finally, there are also several exceptions to the rules we’ve outlined above.
For example, if you are operating machinery under the supervision of the Department of Transportation for construction or maintenance, you do not need to hold a license.
Similarly, driving without a license is also legal when operating any farm tractor or other farm machinery.
Although there are a few exemptions, driving without a license is illegal in Virginia.
If you are caught driving without a license you might face fees and jail time. You might also have to deal with other consequences such as a license suspension.
In order to avoid legal trouble, make sure you are eligible for and hold a valid driver’s license before you get behind the wheel.
If you are charged with driving without a license in Virginia, think about hiring a good lawyer.
An attorney can help you avoid a criminal conviction, or help you reduce the possible consequences of driving without a license.