Driving Without a License in North Carolina

Driving without a license in North Carolina can be a serious offense, depending on the circumstances. Having an attorney at your side to defend against the allegations can protect you from a significant fine, a limitation to your right to drive, or even jail time.

7 Ways You Can Be Guilty of Driving Without a License in North Carolina

There are 7 ways that you can be found to be driving without a license in North Carolina. Which one fits your case drastically impacts the potential penalties that you can face. The possible circumstances are:

  1. You have a valid drivers' license, but it is not with you when you got pulled over,
  2. You never had a drivers' license,
  3. Your drivers' license has expired,
  4. You have an out-of-state license, but have lived in North Carolina for more than 60 days, or an out-of-state commercial drivers' license, but have lived in North Carolina for more than 30 days,
  5. Not complying with restrictions on your drivers' license,
  6. Your drivers' license was cancelled or revoked, or
  7. Your drivers' license is currently suspended.

The No Operating License Infraction

If you get pulled over and are found to not be licensed to drive in North Carolina, the least serious thing that can happen is a ticket for driving with no operating license, or NOL, under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-7(a). You can get ticketed for NOL if:

  • You are properly licensed to drive, but your license is not in your possession when you got pulled over,     
  • Your North Carolina drivers' license has expired, or
  • You have a valid out-of-state license, but have since moved to North Carolina.

Importantly, under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-35, an NOL is a traffic infraction, not a criminal offense. Therefore, the repercussions are relatively light: A fine of up to $100, plus court costs, 3 points on your driver's record, and 1 point on your insurance record. These “light” penalties, however, can still be a big problem.

Some License Issues are Class 3 Misdemeanors

More serious instances of driving while unlicensed, though, are punished not as infractions, but as Class 3 misdemeanors, including:

  • Driving without ever obtaining a license,
  • Not complying with license restrictions, and
  • Letting an unlicensed driver operate your vehicle.

If convicted, these offenses come with up to 20 days in jail and a $200 fine.

All Other License Problems are Class 2 Misdemeanors 

Finally, all license issues that are not infractions or Class 3 misdemeanors are classified as Class 2 misdemeanors in North Carolina. These include:

  • Driving on a cancelled or revoked drivers' license,
  • Driving while your license is under suspension, or
  • Knowingly showing a fictitious drivers' license.

These offenses are punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

North Carolina Criminal Defense and Traffic Attorneys

Traffic offenses can impinge your right to drive, making it much more difficult to work and live. Having an attorney at your side to defend your rights and interests can make a huge difference. Call the attorneys at Caulder & Valentine at (704) 470-2440 or contact us online for the legal representation you need.


Shelby Office
303 West Marion Street
Shelby, NC 28150
704.754.8401 (fax)
Gastonia Office
316 S Chester St
Gastonia, NC 28052
704.754.8401 (fax)