Driving Without a License in Virginia

Driving Without a License in Virginia (No Operator’s License) Va. Code § 46.2-300

It is illegal to drive in Virginia without having a valid driver’s license. A first offense is a Class 2 misdemeanor. A second offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor.  Driving without a license is punished under Va. Code § 46.2-300. The statute reads:

“No person, except those expressly exempted in §§ 46.2-303 through 46.2-308, shall drive any motor vehicle on any highway in the Commonwealth until such person has applied for a driver’s license, as provided in this article, satisfactorily passed the examination required by § 46.2-325, and obtained a driver’s license, nor unless the license is valid.

A violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor. A second or subsequent violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Upon conviction under this section, the court may suspend the person’s privilege to drive for a period not to exceed 90 days.”

Who does this law affect?

This law applies to anyone who has not secured a valid driver’s license and drives on a highway in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In most cases, a person has not applied for a license, has not completed the licensing requirements, or is simply not eligible to obtain a valid driver’s license. There are some exceptions to the law explained below.

Attorney Explanation

If you drive a motor vehicle in Virginia and you are not validly licensed, you could be charged under § 46.2-300. This statute punishes those who do not have a valid license at all, not those who merely do not have their license in their possession at the time of the traffic stop. Not having a license in possession is a separate offense which is merely a traffic infraction and is punishable by a $10 fine. See Va. Code § 46.2- 104. Under § 46.2-104, if the defendant is licensed but does not physically have the license in his possession, the charge must be dismissed if a valid license is later provided to the court and the court costs are paid.

Elements of Driving Without a License:

  • The defendant must drive a
  • motor vehicle
  • on a highway
  • without a valid license.

Elements explained:

1) Drive means the defendant must be actually driving the motor vehicle, merely “operating” the vehicle is not sufficient to sustain a conviction.  “Driving” and “operating” have different meanings under Virginia law.

2) Motor vehicle is defined under Va Code 46.2-100 as “every vehicle as defined in this section that is self-propelled or designed for self-propulsion except as otherwise provided in this title. Any structure designed, used, or maintained primarily to be loaded on or affixed to a motor vehicle to provide a mobile dwelling, sleeping place, office, or commercial space shall be considered a part of a motor vehicle. For the purposes of this title, any device herein defined as a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, or moped shall be deemed not to be a motor vehicle.”

3) Highway: This is where an attorney may help provide a defense to the charge.   There is a statute and case law as to what constitutes a “highway” for purposes of this statute. The test of whether a “way” is a highway depends upon the degree to which the way is open to the public.

Questions an attorney may ask include:

  • Were there signs prohibiting public access on the way?
  • Was there a physical barrier making the way inaccessible to the public?
  • Was the driving on private property? If so, was the private property open to the public?
  • Was the way only open by business invitation?

Exceptions to Driving Without a License

There are certain exceptions for military personnel and their family members, operators of farm tractor equipment, and out of state drivers who are validly licensed in another jurisdiction. If you have a valid license from another state or country and you are a non-resident, you are exempted under this law. New Virginia residents are allowed to drive in Virginia for sixty days before they must obtain a valid Virginia license.

International Driver’s Licenses/Permits

If an individual is licensed in their home country and has an international driver’s permit or license, they may be able to drive in the Commonwealth without being in violation of § 46.2-300.  However, if they are a Virginia resident, they need to apply for a Virginia license, as they are allowed an exemption for a period of sixty days only.  See Va. Code § 46.2-308-  “A resident over the age of sixteen years and three months who has been duly licensed as a driver under a law of another state or country requiring the licensing of drivers shall, for the first sixty days of his residency in the Commonwealth, be permitted, without a Virginia license, to drive a motor vehicle on the highways of the Commonwealth.”


If convicted, the defendant’s privilege to drive may be suspended for up to 90 days, and an administrative impoundment of the vehicle is provided under the statute. If it is a first offense, it is a Class 2 misdemeanor and can be punished by up to 6 months in jail, a $1,000 fine, and/or both. If it is a second offense, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor and is punishable by up to a year in jail, a $2,500 fine, and/or both.

Additional Notes:

In some jurisdictions, a defendant charged with driving on a suspended license under 46.2-301 will have his charge reduced to this charge (driving without a license) if they get their license reinstated before the court date.