What Happens if you get in a Car Accident Without a License?

by: Sonja Bradley
Driving without a license is a violation of the law, but it's also a completely separate issue from your claim for damages. The party at fault is responsible for the damages to your vehicle and any injuries you have sustained.

You don’t have a license and you were in a car accident. The car wreck wasn’t your fault. Do you have the right to recover damages for your damages and injuries? What happens if you get in a car accident without a license?

Driving without a license is a violation of the law, but it’s also a completely separate issue from your claim for damages. The party at fault is responsible for the damages to your vehicle and any injuries you’ve sustained.

Louisiana negligence laws require the party that causes damage to another to repair it. This mandate is independent of your responsibility to have a driver’s license.

Can You File a Claim against another Party if you were Driving without a License?

Yes, so long as you are not at fault in causing the accident. Unlicensed drivers are not automatically liable for an accident because they don’t have a valid license. Liability is based on the negligence of the parties.

The fault for the accident is dependent on which party failed to act responsibly and safely. For a person without a license to be liable, he must have operated in a careless way that led to the collision. To learn more about proving fault read this article.

Driving Without a License in Louisiana

Although you can recover damages if you were in a car wreck without your license, you have violated Louisiana law against the operation of a motor vehicle without a valid license.

Anyone operating a motor vehicle on a Louisiana highway must possess and present a valid driver’s license when requested.  A licensed driver without immediate possession of the license is subject to a fine of $10 to $500 and up to six months in jail.

Under Louisiana’s “Wallet Program,” a digital image of the driver’s license presented via the driver’s cellphone is sufficient. Driving a car without your valid driver’s license on you is not as severe as driving with a suspended or revoked license.

While you will likely get a ticket, it’s a simple traffic violation and not a misdemeanor. Courts often dismiss the ticket if you show up at court with your valid driver’s license, although you may still be fined.

Driving While Suspended or Revoked

A person who operates a vehicle during the time his or her license is suspended or revoked is subject to jail time, fines, and an extension of their driving suspension. Driving after your license has been suspended or revoked is a crime.

If you are charged, your sentence depends in part on the type of license you had and whether you had prior convictions for driving on a suspended or revoked license. For persons with Class D or E driver’s license, the maximum sentence is a $500 fine and six months in jail. (La. Rev. Stat. § 32:415 (C)(1).

If you have a class A, B, or C driver’s license, the maximum sentence could be $5,000, six months in jail and a civil penalty of $2,500. For any conviction of driving on a suspended or revoked license, your period of suspension or revocation may be extended for an additional year.

Can you go to jail for not having your license?

Persons driving without a valid license can be charged with a misdemeanor. Not having a valid license includes persons who have never had a license or failed to renew an expired license. If charged and convicted, you face up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $500.

Driving with a suspended license is a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to six months in jail. You can be fined up to $500 unless you were driving a commercial vehicle, then the fine can reach $5000. Also, an additional year is added to your driving suspension.

However, if your driving privileges were suspended because of a DWI conviction, more severe penalties can be assessed. Check the statute for up to date penalties. It is prudent to get a driver’s license issue straightened out as soon as possible.

Getting your license allows you to drive legally, and you gain some credibility when dealing with the insurance company and courts. It is typical for either of them to use your continued lack of a license against you.

Can you get in trouble for letting someone without a license drive your car?

Typically, if you let someone drive your car, which you believe had a valid license, but they didn’t, you shouldn’t get into any trouble.

However, if you allow a person without a license to drive your car and they were involved in an accident, you could be held responsible if you knew or should have known that the person was unlicensed or had a suspended license.

You could be held civilly responsible under the doctrine of negligent entrustment. To establish liability it must be proven that you knew or should have known the person was unlicensed at the time. The best approach would be to call a lawyer who concentrates on these types of issues, because Louisiana’s negligence laws are relatively broad.

Does having no driver’s license play a role in determining negligence in a car accident?

No, not unless the failure to have a driver’s license played a role in the car accident. Louisiana negligence is established in Civil Code Article 2315: Every act whatever of man that causes damage to another obliges him by whose fault it happened to repair it.  Civil Code Article 2315 (A)

Courts use the following criteria in their analysis to determine the validity of negligence claims:

  • Was the conduct a cause in fact of the harm? In other words, “but for” the actions of the defendant, the plaintiff would not have been injured; and such conduct is a cause.
  • Was a duty owed to the plaintiff by the defendant? Did this defendant owe a duty to this plaintiff, either by law, regulation, or custom?
  • Did the defendant breach this duty? Did the defendant deviate from the duty owed to this plaintiff?
  • What was the scope of duty breached? Was the duty breached meant to protect this plaintiff from this type of injury? The answer to this question is case-specific. Facts are used to determine foreseeability and ease of association.
  • What damages were suffered by the plaintiff? Were the damages suffered caused by the breach of the duty owed to the plaintiff? To read more about Louisiana Negligence law click here.

Will insurance cover an unlicensed driver?

It depends on the facts surrounding the unlicensed driver. Insurance companies require a valid license before they issue insurance. Also, many insurance companies have exclusions of non-coverage for owners/drivers with a suspended license.

However, if the car was borrowed, then the insurance typically follows the vehicle. If a person with valid car insurance decides to loan his vehicle to an unlicensed person, then the insurance should cover the damages caused by the unlicensed driver. One caveat, the owner, doesn’t know the person is unlicensed at the time he loaned the vehicle.

The best way to protect yourself have adequate UM/UIM coverage as part of your auto insurance policy and to hire an attorney experienced with car accidents.

These two actions will ensure you receive fair compensation for your damages.

Sonja Bradley has successfully navigated many cases through the settlement process and courts for accident victims throughout Louisiana.

If you want someone by your side to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve, contact our offices in either Hammond or Livingston, Louisiana.

Sonja Bradley J.D., Sonja received her undergraduate degree from Southeastern Louisiana University and a Juris Doctorate from Loyola University School of Law. Sonja is a member of the Louisiana State Bar Association and the 21st JDC Bar Association. She has 21 years of legal experience.