Driving on a Suspended Drivers License vs. Driving Without a Valid License. Which is Worse?

“Driving on a Suspended Drivers License” and “Driving Without a Valid Drivers License” sound like similar violations, but they are very different.

In most states, Driving on a Suspended Drivers License is the more serious of the two. And if you are charged with driving on a suspended license, you need to know what the difference is – especially if you want a reduction in the charges.  Here is an example of how it works in California:

“Driving on a Suspended License” is more technically known as a violation of California Vehicle Code section 14601.1 (in most cases). It is a misdemeanor crime, and carriers a penalty of up to six months in county jail and a fine of $1500+. It is a priorable offense, which means subsequent violations will greatly increase penalties.

And a 14601.1 charge can lead to a probation violation if you are on probation.


There are also consequences to your drivers license. A conviction of driving on a suspended drivers license in California will add 2 negligent driver points to your CA Department of Motor Vehicles Driver History record.

The charge applies when the DMV has suspended the drivers license for some problem, and after DMV provides notice to the address on file for the drive according to law.

Jail time is a possible outcome in a 14601.1 case, as is Sheriff’s work release time, home detention, and other alternative sentence options.

“Driving Without a Valid License”, is a violation of a different statute, California Vehicle Section 12500(a). It is generally a less serious charge than driving on a suspended drivers license.

This is the charge that applies when a person is caught driving with an expired drivers license.  Jail time is almost never imposed for this offense, although technically jail time is possible.  While still a misdemeanor, it is a less serious charge than a VC14601.1, and can be a simple infraction if you can talk the judge into it (See Vehicle Code section 40000.5). In many courtrooms, a Vehicle Code 12500(a) violation can be reduced to an infraction by the judge upon a showing of a valid drivers license. Most courts will give a defendant more time to get a valid drivers license.

Infractions are not crimes. Misdemeanors are crimes.

A Vehicle Code 12500(a) – “Driving without a Valid Drivers License” violation -  does not lead to negligent driver points on your driving record in most instances, and usually will not trigger a probation violation. And as an infraction, the only penalty is a small fine.

Why The Difference is Important:

It is possible to resolve either type of violation without a valid drivers license. Just walk in, plead guilty, done.

But if you can get a valid drivers license, it may help you get a good outcome, dismissal or reduction. There is no guarantee, but it might help.

Under the right circumstances, an effective defense attorney can get a driving on a suspended drivers license charge reduced to the less serious Driving without a Valid License, which brings great benefits to the client – including a reduced fine, no points on the driving record, no possibility of jail time, no probation, etc. Sometimes this means using a valid drivers license to resolve the case with the judge, or prosecutor, and perhaps getting more time for a client to get a valid drivers license.

A person representing themselves may be able to do it also, but an Attorney can appear in court for a person charged with driving on a suspended drivers license, and can talk to the prosecutor directly.

This is one example of why a person charged with a driving on a suspended drivers license charge such as Veh. Code 14601.1, 14601.2, 14601.5, etc, should consider requesting a Free Attorney Case Review From TrafficCourtPros.com. It may help to hire a Licensed Defense Attorney to work on getting a result better than just pleading guilty!

If you have a suspended drivers license and are not sure why it is suspended, contact the Department of Motor Vehicles Driver Safety Office to get a list of holds on the license, and the ADDRESS of the courthouse if any.

Questions?  Leave a Reply.  We try to answer them all.

About Attorney Christopher Dort

Public Interest Attorney. CA State Bar #196832. Licensed to practice law in California 1998, and then the US Federal District Court in 2000. Civil Litigation Trial Attorney (Insurance Defense Firms) 2000-2003. Private practice 2003 - present. First Solo Criminal Jury Trial 1998 (Santa Cruz County). First Civil Jury Trial 2002 (Orange County). Santa Cruz County Public Defenders Office 1996-1999 (law clerk). BA in Politics from UC Santa Cruz, 1995. JD, University of California, Hastings, 1998.
This entry was posted in California Legal Help, Suspended Drivers License, Traffic Court Fines, Vehicle Code, Warrant Information and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Driving on a Suspended Drivers License vs. Driving Without a Valid License. Which is Worse?

  1. daniel says:

    I got a citation for first offense dui. N 14601.1 what csn i do to avoid jail time..cant lose job n fam xause of this

    • Daniel,

      Bad news first: People lose their jobs (and sometimes careers) because of DUI arrests every day in America.

      Good news: .. ……check back with me later.

      Any ideas? Yes. Hire a quality defense attorney who can win a trial if you have good facts, or negotiate the best possible resolution if you have bad facts.

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