California, like many states, requires all drivers on the road to be properly licensed and insured to the minimum standards set by law. To encourage drivers to be compliant with these requirements, the state has financial and, in some cases, criminal penalties for those who are caught without a valid driver's license, auto insurance or both.
California Vehicle Code 12500 VC
California prohibits people from driving a motor vehicle without a valid license, whether issued by California or any other state, in vehicle code 12500. Of the many prohibitions listed in the law, driving without a license is the only one with the possibility of a misdemeanor criminal charge. The penalty you face for violating this law depends on whether the court finds you guilty of a misdemeanor charge or the lesser infraction charge. Sometimes, the court will reduce a misdemeanor to an infraction depending on the circumstances.
A misdemeanor conviction for driving without a valid license in California can result in a fine between $300 and $1,000, three years' probation, a 30-day impound of your vehicle and a county jail sentence between five days and six months. A misdemeanor conviction is a crime and will remain on your criminal record afterward. If you are convicted of an infraction, typically you must pay a fine between $250 and $300.
Driving Without Insurance
Driving without valid auto insurance or other acceptable means of satisfying the state's financial responsibility laws is a different violation than driving without a license and comes with its own penalties. The size of the fine you must pay varies depending on certain circumstances, including whether you were in an accident, but it can be up to $1,200. Additionally, your vehicle registration and sometimes your license will be automatically suspended for six months to a year if you cannot provide within 45 days proof that you were insured on the day you were cited.
High-Risk Auto Insurance
You face long-term financial consequences for these types of convictions in the form of higher auto insurance premiums. Auto insurers check your driving record whenever you apply for new coverage, and your existing insurer will recheck it every year or two. When these convictions appear on your record, the insurer will likely consider you a high-risk driver and either refuse you coverage or charge you higher premiums as a result. This surcharge can last for several years.