What Happens if an Unlicensed Driver Has an Accident With My Car

two cars getting into an accident

If an unlicensed driver was driving your vehicle and involved in a collision, you may be wondering what your financial responsibilities will be, if any, and what to do next. After reviewing the specific circumstances of your case, a highly experienced car accident attorney with The Text Kevin Accident Attorneys can offer further legal guidance and support.

It may surprise you to learn that as much as 20% of all collisions are caused by unlicensed drivers according to a traffic study completed by AAA. With the number of unlicensed drivers on the roadway being so high, you can rest easier knowing our team has extensive experience handling accidents similar to yours. Learn more about the potential consequences of unlicensed driver car accidents and how your case may unfold.

Table of Contents

Drivers Who May Be Unlicensed

There are many types of drivers who may operate your vehicle without a license. Whether you knew they were unlicensed at the time of the accident and the unlicensed driver was at fault will determine if you face financial consequences. Some of the most common types of unlicensed drivers include the following:

The Elderly

Many elderly individuals are often found driving without a valid license. In some cases, they simply forgot that their driver’s license expired. However, in others, they may no longer have an active license due to an age-related medical condition. The elderly may have more difficulty passing vision exams or written tests that are required for license renewal. Cognitive issues and limited physical mobility or use of prescription medications are other common reasons the elderly may not be able to carry an active driver’s license.


Teen drivers may have a driver’s permit if they have approval from their parent or legal guardian and have passed the requirements, which also include enrolling in or completing a driver’s education program as described by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Other teen drivers may not have obtained their license if their parent or legal guardian did not give them permission to do so. Teen drivers are often responsible for causing accidents due to their lack of driving experience and distracted driving according to the CA DMV.

Driving in an Emergency

In emergency situations, unlicensed drivers may be forced to operate a motor vehicle without a valid license. For example, if you suffered a medical emergency while driving and your 14-year-old needed to drive the vehicle to the nearest hospital so you could obtain medical treatment, this would be a valid reason for driving without a valid license. However, your case could be adversely affected if public transportation or waiting for an ambulance were options the unlicensed driver opted out of.

Pro Tip
If a true emergency exists, prioritize immediate safety actions (like getting to a hospital) over concerns about unlicensed driving.

Drivers With Suspended or Revoked Licenses

One of the most common parties to operate motor vehicles without valid licenses are those who have revoked or suspended driver’s licenses. This most often occurs when motorists have violated traffic laws by speeding, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or being designated habitual offenders.

Drivers who let their licenses expire could also face considerable fines according to California Vehicle Code § 12500 (a). Not knowing that your license has expired at the time of the accident, may not be considered a valid excuse.

Foreigners or Undocumented Immigrants

Foreigners and undocumented immigrants may not be able to secure valid driver’s licenses due to their immigration status. Unfortunately, this does not always prevent unlicensed undocumented immigrants from driving on the roadways unlawfully. Foreigners visiting California may also be driving without a valid license if their valid driver’s license from their home country has not yet been converted.

Penalties for Driving Without a License

The consequences that follow driving without a valid driver’s license can be devastating. Not only can licensed drivers face criminal penalties and civil consequences, but the financial burden that follows could be life-changing. Here are some of the most common penalties unlicensed drivers face when involved in a collision:

Criminal Consequences

Under the California Vehicle Code, driving without a license can be a traffic citation or criminal offense, depending on the circumstances of your case. Unlicensed drivers may face criminal charges if they operate a motor vehicle or are found responsible for causing a car accident. Generally, this is considered a misdemeanor offense. You could be ordered to pay fines of up to $1,000 and spend as much as six months, or up to one year in jail for habitual offenders.

If an unlicensed driver is responsible for causing a collision and a victim suffers serious injuries, charges could be elevated to the felony level. Fines could be increased to as much as $1,000 and you could spend up to four years in a California state prison. Other criminal consequences could include:

  • Loss of the ability to obtain a valid license
  • Up to three years on probation
  • Two demerit points being added to your driving record
  • Being ordered to pay restitution for property damages

There are also collateral consequences that follow criminal convictions. For example, you could be passed over for job opportunities, subject to deportation or immigration issues, or be disqualified from obtaining federal student loan funding.

Civil Consequences

If the unlicensed driver is found responsible for causing the collision, the at-fault party may have grounds to file a claim against them. However, simply being unlicensed does not mean the driver operating your vehicle caused the accident. You may need to hire an experienced legal advocate from The Text Kevin Accident Attorneys to prove the defendant’s liability for the accident and escape the financial consequences that come with being found liable.

Injury victims may attempt to file claims with the insurance company. If you knew an unlicensed driver was operating your vehicle and that driver caused the accident, the liable party may attempt to file a claim against your auto insurance policy since California is a fault state under California Insurance Code – INS § 11580.1. However, if they are not responsible, there is no reason your auto insurance coverage should have to pay.

If the unlicensed driver caused the accident, the at-fault party might also name you as a defendant in their personal injury lawsuit against the unlicensed driver. Here, if you are liable, you could be expected to cover a portion of the injury victim’s damages. These situations can be incredibly complex, so it is important to review the specific circumstances of your case with your personal injury attorney to prepare accordingly.

The details of your insurance policy and the exact circumstances of the accident will determine your potential liability.

Financial Consequences

The financial consequences that follow unlicensed drivers are meant to be severe. This is in the hopes of reducing instances of unlicensed driver car accidents. Drivers who operate vehicles without valid licenses can be fined up to $25,000 if the circumstances warrant. But those are not the only costs.

Unlicensed drivers may need to pay considerable reinstatement fees if they hope to obtain a valid driver’s license in the future. You could even be required to participate in expensive driver retraining programs or cover the costs if your vehicle is impounded after an unlicensed driver is stopped by police.

It is not uncommon for unlicensed drivers to fail to carry sufficient auto insurance coverage. The driver operating your vehicle may not have auto insurance coverage in place, which would mean all property damages and medical expenses would need to be covered out of their own pocket. Even seemingly minor accidents can cost thousands of dollars or more since the cost of vehicle repairs and healthcare are so high in the United States.

Ways Injury Victims Hold Unlicensed Drivers Accountable

It should be noted that injury victims can only hold unlicensed drivers accountable if the unlicensed driver is responsible for causing the accident. In this case, since you are the owner of the vehicle, you may also share liability. However, if the unlicensed driver was not found liable for the accident, there is no reason to believe the other involved party would file a claim against your auto insurance policy or bring you to court.

Filing Insurance Claims

When unlicensed drivers caused car accidents, injury victims were first to look to the insurance company to recoup a portion of their damages. The California Department of Insurance requires all drivers to carry a minimum of $5,000 in property damage liability coverage and $15,000/$30,000 per person/per accident in bodily injury liability coverage.

If you have the bare minimum amount of auto insurance coverage when an unlicensed driver causes an accident with your car, you can expect the injury victim to file a claim against your auto insurance policy. If the victim’s medical expenses or property damages exceed your policy limits, injury victims will need to seek alternative options for legal recourse.

In the unlikely event that the unlicensed driver has auto insurance coverage, the injury victim would first file a claim against the unlicensed driver’s policy. Unfortunately, if a driver is unlicensed, chances are they do not have auto insurance in place either.

Going to Trial

Insurance only pays for specific types of covered losses. Victims who suffer catastrophic injuries due to unlicensed drivers have the right to be fully repaid for their damages, including reimbursement for their economic and non-economic damages as described by California Civil Code 1431.2.

If the insurance company refuses to cover the total value of their damages, you might be named in the injury victim’s personal injury lawsuit as a co-defendant alongside the unlicensed driver. In court, injury victims have the potential to be awarded one or more of the following types of losses:

  • Chronic pain and suffering
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Diminished earning potential
  • Rental car expenses
  • Loss of income, tips, wages, and salary
  • Loss of salary increases and bonuses
  • Emotional distress and psychological trauma
  • Permanent disability, skin scarring, and disfigurement
  • Shame, shock, fear, and anticipation
  • Embarrassment or indignity
  • Vehicle repair cost
  • Increases to auto insurance premiums
  • Current and future medical expenses
California law prioritizes the compensation of injured victims, even when complex circumstances are involved.

Unlicensed Driver FAQ

Can an unlicensed driver still receive compensation for injury due to an accident?

Yes, unlicensed drivers can still be awarded compensation for their injuries. The state follows pure comparative negligence laws under California Civil Code 1714, which means sharing blame for the accident does not prevent survivors from receiving reimbursement for the portion of the accident that is not their fault. Unfortunately, under Proposition 239, The Personal Responsibility Act of 1996, unlicensed drivers can only be awarded compensation for economic losses and are barred from being compensated for non-economic damages.

What are the insurance coverages for accidents involving unlicensed drivers?

Most unlicensed drivers do not have auto insurance coverage. However, your vehicle likely has auto insurance coverage as mandated by California auto insurance laws. Every policy is different, so be sure to review your policy details with your attorney to determine whether there are built-in exclusion clauses that could allow the insurance company to escape liability for the injury victim’s damages.

What is the statute of limitations for unlicensed driver claims?

If you are an injury victim filing a claim against an unlicensed driver, the statute of limitations will vary depending on whether you are filing a personal injury lawsuit or insurance claim. Insurance companies set their own deadlines.

However, according to California Code of Civil Procedure § 335.1, the personal injury lawsuit statute of limitations is set at two years from the date of the collision. This typically means you have a maximum of two years from the accident to file a claim. If your lawsuit is not filed before time runs out you may lose out on compensation you might have otherwise deserved.

Trust in Orange County’s Most Respected Car Accident Law Firm

If an unlicensed driver uses your car and is involved in an accident, many factors could impact the outcome of your case. If you knew the unlicensed driver was operating your vehicle, you may share financial liability for the victim’s damages if the unlicensed driver caused the accident. However, if the unlicensed driver is not deemed liable for the collision, you should not be compelled to compensate the victim for their damages.

Gain insight and protect yourself from potential liability claims when you turn to a reputable Orange County car accident attorney with The Text Kevin Accident Attorneys. Our firm proudly offers free, no-obligation consultations to accident victims and injury survivors across Irvine and surrounding communities. Claim yours when you fill out our online contact form or call our office today.

Kevin Crockett

Kevin Crockett

Kevin Crockett is an award-winning personal injury lawyer who understands the impact an accident can have on someone’s life. That’s why he aggressively fights for each of his clients.

All Posts

More Legal Blogs

A man inspecting a Rear-End Collision. Relevant to determining fault in a rear-end collision.
Car Accident

Who Is at Fault in a Rear-End Collision?

In parking lots, right of way often goes to vehicles in driving lanes, the vehicle on the right, or those moving through lanes. Be cautious even if you have the right of way; other drivers may not stop.

Vehicle parked in lot with question mark. Who has right of way in parking area?
Driving Laws

Who Has the Right of Way in a Parking Lot?

In parking lots, vehicles in driving lanes have the right of way over those in parking spaces. Always yield to oncoming traffic when exiting a spot. If unsure, it’s safest to let cars and pedestrians pass to avoid accidents.

Suggest a Correction