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Is It Ever Legal to Drive Without a License?

To legally drive a car in the United States is a privilege, and that privilege is granted to drivers when they receive their license from the Department of Motor Vehicles. The privilege of driving is one that can be taken away very quickly and for a multitude of reasons. Driving drunk, driving recklessly, and driving without insurance are all actions that could lead to the loss of a driver’s license and someone’s ability to continue driving legally. In addition to the loss of a license, the process of getting a driver’s license is time consuming to begin with and it can be tempting to drive without it if that opportunity ever arises. Is it ever okay to drive without a legal license, like in the case of an emergency, or will someone face legal trouble regardless of the situation that led them to drive without being licensed to do so?

How Can I Receive a Driver’s License in New York?

New York State has a relatively rigorous process for people looking to become licensed drivers, and this process has been developed over the years to keep the roads as safe as possible. Here’s how the process works for someone looking to get their license:

  • Apply for a permit: Before someone can be licensed to drive, they’ll need their learning permit, which can be obtained by passing a written test as well as an eye exam. A Social Security card and 6 forms of identification, such as a birth certificate, will need to be presented as well.
  • Complete driving time: Once a permit has been granted, a potential driver must drive supervised for at least 50 hours, 15 of which must be at night. They must also take a 5-hour course which will be administered in the county they live in.
  • Pass a road test: Once these requirements have been completed, a person seeking their driver’s license must take a road test with a professional from the Department of Motor Vehicles. If they pass, they will be given a driver’s license.

Although this process may seem lengthy, it is designed to ensure the people driving on the road are experienced and knowledgeable about the safest ways to drive. However, this process may deter some people, or some people may not be eligible for a license due to past criminal convictions, which could lead them to drive without one.

Will My Out of State License be Valid in New York State?

If someone has already been licensed to drive in another state, New York will recognize that license, but only temporarily. This applies to foreign drivers as well, and foreign drivers can also seek an international driving permit. People who are moving to New York and establishing a new permanent residence there will have 30 days to apply for a new license granted by New York’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

Someone who is caught driving with a license from another state more than 30 days after moving to New York will be charged a fine of $40, a much less severe penalty than the one received for driving without any license whatsoever.

What Are the Penalties for Driving Without a License in New York?

Like most places, it is illegal to drive without a license in the state of New York. This is true whether the license is invalid, has been suspended or revoked, or was never issued at all. However, the penalties for such offenses are different depending on whether someone is driving with no license at all or if they are driving with a license that has been suspended.

Driving Without a License

The penalties for driving without a license tend to be less severe than the penalties for driving with a license that has been suspended or revoked, because suspension or revocation of a license is usually the result of dangerous or intoxicated driving. Here are the penalties for driving without a license in the state of New York:

  • Driving unlicensed: If someone was never issued a license in any capacity and is caught driving, they risk a fine between $75 and $300 as well as a jail sentence of up to 15 days.
  • Driving without license in possession: If someone has received a valid license but gets pulled over without their license in their possession, they risk getting arrested. People can be arrested for driving without their license on them, however, they cannot receive a conviction if it turns out they are legally and currently licensed.
  • Some exceptions: Some of these penalties do not apply to people in certain situations. For example, a non-resident driving in New York with a license from their home state that is valid can drive in New York without a New York license. However, they are still subject to New York’s laws about age and driving, meaning if a driver from another state is younger than the legal age to drive in New York, they cannot driv here. Also, people who are driving certain farming related vehicles, emergency vehicles, or certain military vehicles may not be subject to the same requirements as someone driving the average passenger vehicle.

Driving With a Suspended License

The penalties for driving with a license that has previously been suspended are much more severe than those for people driving without any license whatsoever. Anyone who has a suspended or revoked New York license and chooses to drive there anyway will be guilty of a crime called aggravated unlicensed operation. A conviction for this crime has severe consequences, which differ depending on whether it’s the first offense.

  • 3rd Degree Aggravated Unlicensed Operation: Aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle in the 3rd degree is the first offense, and the consequences of such a conviction include a fine between $200 and $500 and/or a jail sentence of up to 30 days.
  • 2nd Degree Aggravated Unlicensed Operation: A 2nd degree aggravated unlicensed operation charge applies to people who already had their licenses suspended for driving while intoxicated, refusing a sobriety test, or failing to appear in court three or more times. It also applies to people who receive a second aggravated unlicensed operation conviction within 18 months. The penalties for such a conviction are a fine between $500 and $100 as well as a prison sentence between 7 and 180 days. In addition to these consequences, the car being driven at the time of arrest will get impounded, and it will only be returned to the owner with a valid license and proof of insurance after all applicable fees have been paid.
  • 1st Degree Aggravated Unlicensed Operation: For someone to be convicted of 1st degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle, they must have:
    • Received a 2nd degree aggravated unlicensed operation charge while under the influence
    • Had at least 10 suspensions for failing to appear in court or pay court fees
    • Been driving while their license was revoked for driving under the influence, or
    • Been driving under the influence while in possession of a conditional DWI license.

1st degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle is a class E felony in the state of New York, and the consequences are severe because of it. If convicted, a driver will face a fine between $500 and $5,000 as well as a prison sentence of up to 4 years. The vehicle in question will be impounded and could even be taken permanently.

The state of New York does not allow charges of aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle to be reduced to a lesser charge. However, an experienced attorney will be able to guide people facing this charge through the legal process and provide them with advice on how to proceed.

What Are the Realistic Alternatives to Driving?

The loss of a driver’s license and the ability to drive legally can be life changing for most people, and they will need to figure out how to live without that privilege. However, there are some alternatives to driving that people can make use of if they cannot drive legally.

  • Use Public Transportation: Public transportation is one of the least expensive and most effective alternatives to driving a car. Many cities in New York are equipped with reliable public transportation that can bring former drivers where they need to go. Cities have intricate bus systems, and people can travel between cities using trains or commercial bus lines.
  • Walking or Bike Riding: If someone needs to take care of certain things that are in close proximity to them, they should consider riding a bike or even walking if weather permits. Both actions provide the benefit of getting someone from where they are to where they need to be as well as exercise and a smaller environmental impact.
  • Carpooling: Carpooling is a great option for people who work with other drivers willing to commit to such a system. It is better for the environment and provides the opportunity to get to know coworkers or friends better.

Contact an Attorney Today

If you have been arrested for driving without a license or you’re facing an aggravated unlicensed operation charge, contact Martin A. Kron & Associates, P.C. today. With over 30 years of experience working on cases with traffic violation charges, Attorney Kron has a deep understanding of the court process and can help you navigate the court and Department of Motor Vehicles systems. As a former traffic judge, he will use his knowledge and experience to build a legal strategy to fight your charges. Contact him today at (212) 235-1525 or via his contact page.

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