California Unlicensed Driver
Unlicensed Driving – Driving Without A License
Driving without a license is a serious crime and accounts for a large percentage of all accidents in California. The penalties for driving without a license or being an unlicensed driving is severe and can result in vehicle impoundment. See Articles below for explanations and information on unlicensed driving:
Vehicle Impoundment: Suspended, Revoked, or Unlicensed Driver: Hearing
14602.6. (a) (1) Whenever a peace officer determines that a person was driving a vehicle while his or her driving privilege was suspended or revoked, driving a vehicle while his or her driving privilege is restricted pursuant to Section 13352 or 23575 and the vehicle is not equipped with a functioning, certified interlock device, or driving a vehicle without ever having been issued a driver’s license, the peace officer may either immediately arrest that person and cause the removal and seizure of that vehicle or, if the vehicle is involved in a traffic collision, cause the removal and seizure of the vehicle without the necessity of arresting the person in accordance with Chapter 10 (commencing with Section 22650) of Division 11. A vehicle so impounded shall be impounded for 30 days.
(2) The impounding agency, within two working days of impoundment, shall send a notice by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the legal owner of the vehicle, at the address obtained from the department, informing the owner that the vehicle as been impounded. Failure to notify the legal owner within two working days shall prohibit the impounding agency from charging for more than 15 days’ impoundment when the legal owner redeems the impounded vehicle. The impounding agency shall maintain a published telephone number that provides information 24 hours a day regarding the impoundment of vehicles and the rights of a registered owner to request a hearing.
(b) The registered and legal owner of a vehicle that is removed and seized under subdivision (a) or their agents shall be provided the opportunity for a storage hearing to determine the validity of, or consider any mitigating circumstances attendant to, the storage, in accordance with Section 22852.
(c) Any period in which a vehicle is subjected to storage under this section shall be included as part of the period of impoundment ordered by the court under subdivision (a) of Section 14602.5.
(d) (1) An impounding agency shall release a vehicle to the registered owner or his or her agent prior to the end of 30 days’ impoundment under any of the following circumstances:
(A) When the vehicle is a stolen vehicle.
(B) When the vehicle is subject to bailment and is driven by an unlicensed employee of a business establishment, including a parking service or repair garage.
(C) When the license of the driver was suspended or revoked for an offense other than those included in Article 2 (commencing with Section 13200) of Chapter 2 of Division 6 or Article 3 (commencing with Section 13350) of Chapter 2 of Division 6.
(D) When the vehicle was seized under this section for an offense that does not authorize the seizure of the vehicle.
(E) When the driver reinstates his or her driver’s license or acquires a driver’s license and proper insurance.
(2) No vehicle shall be released pursuant to this subdivision without presentation of the registered owner’s or agent’s currently valid driver’s license to operate the vehicle and proof of current vehicle registration, or upon order of a court.
(e) The registered owner or his or her agent is responsible for all towing and storage charges related to the impoundment, and any administrative charges authorized under Section 22850.5.
(f) A vehicle removed and seized under subdivision (a) shall be released to the legal owner of the vehicle or the legal owner’s agent prior to the end of 30 days’ impoundment if all of the following conditions are met:
(1) The legal owner is a motor vehicle dealer, bank, credit union, acceptance corporation, or other licensed financial institution legally operating in this state or is another person, not the registered owner, holding a security interest in the vehicle.
(2) The legal owner or the legal owner’s agent pays all towing and storage fees related to the seizure of the vehicle. No lien sale processing fees shall be charged to the legal owner who redeems the vehicle prior to the 15th day of impoundment. Neither the impounding authority nor any person having possession of the vehicle shall collect from the legal owner of the type specified in paragraph (1), or the legal owner’s agent any administrative charges imposed pursuant to Section 22850.5 unless the legal owner voluntarily requested a poststorage hearing.
(3) The legal owner or the legal owner’s agent presents a copy of the assignment, as defined in subdivision (b) of Section 7500.1 of the Business and Professions Code, and any one of the following: a certificate of repossession for the vehicle, a security agreement for the vehicle, or title showing proof of legal ownership for the vehicle. Any documents presented may be originals, photocopies, or facsimile copies, or may be transmitted electronically. The law enforcement agency, impounding agency, or any person acting on behalf of those agencies shall not require any documents to be notarized. The law enforcement agency, impounding agency, or any person acting on behalf of those agencies may require the agent of the legal owner to produce a photocopy or facsimile copy of its repossession agency license or registration issued pursuant to Chapter 11 (commencing with Section 7500) of Division 3 of the Business and Professions Code, or to demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the law enforcement agency, impounding agency, or any person acting on behalf of those agencies that the agent is exempt from licensure pursuant to Section 7500.2 or 7500.3 of the Business and Professions Code.
No administrative costs authorized under subdivision (a) of Section 22850.5 shall be charged to the legal owner of the type specified in paragraph (1), who redeems the vehicle unless the legal owner voluntarily requests a poststorage hearing. No city, county, city or county, or state agency shall require a legal owner or a legal owner’s agent to request a poststorage hearing as a requirement for release of the vehicle to the legal owner or the legal owner’s agent. The law enforcement agency, impounding agency, or any person acting on behalf of those agencies shall not require any documents other than those specified in this paragraph. The law enforcement agency, impounding agency, or any person acting on behalf of those agencies shall not require any documents to be notarized.
(g) (1) A legal owner or the legal owner’s agent that obtains release of the vehicle pursuant to subdivision (f) may not release the vehicle to the registered owner of the vehicle or any agents of the registered owner, unless the registered owner is a rental car agency, until after the termination of the 30-day impoundment period.
(2) The legal owner or the legal owner’s agent may not relinquish the vehicle to the registered owner until the registered owner or that owner’s agent presents his or her valid driver’s license or valid temporary driver’s license to the legal owner or the legal owner’s agent. The legal owner or the legal owner’s agent shall make every reasonable effort to ensure that the license presented is valid.
(3) Prior to relinquishing the vehicle, the legal owner may require the registered owner to pay all towing and storage charges related to the impoundment and any administrative charges authorized under Section 22850.5 that were incurred by the legal owner in connection with obtaining custody of the vehicle.
(h) (1) A vehicle removed and seized under subdivision (a) shall be released to a rental car agency prior to the end of 30 days’ impoundment if the agency is either the legal owner or registered owner of the vehicle and the agency pays all towing and storage fees related to the seizure of the vehicle.
(2) The owner of a rental vehicle that was seized under this section may continue to rent the vehicle upon recovery of the vehicle. However, the rental car agency may not rent another vehicle to the driver of the vehicle that was seized until 30 days after the date that the vehicle was seized.
(3) The rental car agency may require the person to whom the vehicle was rented to pay all towing and storage charges related to the impoundment and any administrative charges authorized under Section 22850.5 that were incurred by the rental car agency in connection with obtaining custody of the vehicle.
(i) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, the registered owner and not the legal owner shall remain responsible for any towing and storage charges related to the impoundment, any administrative charges authorized under Section 22850.5, and any parking fines, penalties, and administrative fees incurred by the registered owner.
(j) The law enforcement agency and the impounding agency, including any tow yard acting on behalf of the law enforcement agency or impounding agency, shall ( ) not be liable to the registered owner for the improper release of the vehicle to the legal owner or the legal owner’s agent provided the release complies with the provisions of this section.
14607.4. The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(a) Driving a motor vehicle on the public streets and highways is a privilege, not a right.
(b) Of all drivers involved in fatal accidents, more than 20 percent are not licensed to drive. A driver with a suspended license is four times as likely to be involved in a fatal accident as a properly licensed driver.
(c) At any given time, it is estimated by the Department of Motor Vehicles that of some 20 million driver’s licenses issued to Californians, 720,000 are suspended or revoked. Furthermore, 1,000,000 persons are estimated to be driving without ever having been licensed at all.
(d) Over 4,000 persons are killed in traffic accidents in California annually, and another 330,000 persons suffer injuries.
(e) Californians who comply with the law are frequently victims of traffic accidents caused by unlicensed drivers. These innocent victims suffer considerable pain and property loss at the hands of people who flaunt the law. The Department of Motor Vehicles estimates that 75 percent of all drivers whose driving privilege has been withdrawn continue to drive regardless of the law.
(f) It is necessary and appropriate to take additional steps to prevent unlicensed drivers from driving, including the civil forfeiture of vehicles used by unlicensed drivers. The state has a critical interest in enforcing its traffic laws and in keeping unlicensed drivers from illegally driving. Seizing the vehicles used by unlicensed drivers serves a significant governmental and public interest, namely the protection of the health, safety, and welfare of Californians from the harm of unlicensed drivers, who are involved in a disproportionate number of traffic incidents, and the avoidance of the associated destruction and damage to lives and property.
(g) The Safe Streets Act of 1994 is consistent with the due process requirements of the United States Constitution and the holding of the Supreme Court of the United States in Calero-Toledo v. Pearson Yacht Leasing Co., 40 L. Ed. 2d 452.
Unlicensed Driving: A Major California Safety Problem
Raymond C. Peck
How many drivers are driving in California without a valid driver’s license? This question was the focus of a recent paper authored by the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ Research and Development Branch, which appeared in the January 1997 issue of the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention. The findings of the study are quite astounding: 8.8% of the drivers on the road during the periods and locations sampled had suspended or revoked licenses and another 3.3% had no record of any driver’s license.
The above estimates were based on an analysis of fatal accidents in California during the years 1987-1992 where one or more of the drivers were cited. Using a technique known as quasi-induced exposure, we calculated the proportion of nonculpable parties in 2-vehicle fatal crashes who were suspended, revoked or unlicensed. The rationale underlying the induced exposure technique is straightforward: The incidence of being the “innocent victim” in fatal accidents caused by other drivers is primarily a function of exposure-i.e., the number of miles driven by a group and their proportionate representation on the road during the time and place of accident occurrences.
The study also found that suspended/revoked and unlicensed drivers were much more likely to be the responsible party, as shown in the following figure.
These involvement ratios represent the ratio of each group’s culpable to non culpable accident rates (percentage at fault ÷ percentage not at fault). Clearly, the non licensed groups are much more likely to be responsible for fatal accidents than those with valid licenses. Taking 1992 as an illustration, suspended/revoked drivers have a culpable involvement index of 4.7 compared to an index of 0.60 for validly licensed drivers. Thus, suspended/revoked drivers are 7.8 (4.7 ÷ 0.6) times more likely to be the cause of a fatal accident than are drivers with valid licenses when both parties are involved in a fatal accident.
Although it is not possible to produce a volume estimate of the actual number of drivers who are driving with a suspended/revoked license or with no license, the results suggest that, during the time periods and locations of fatal accidents, roughly 12% (8.8% + 3.3%) of the drivers on the road do not have valid licenses. Perhaps even more significant is the high degree of culpability of unlicensed and suspended drivers in causing fatal accidents.
In California, slightly more than one million drivers are suspended/revoked at any point in time. The fatal accident data base did not contain information on the types of suspensions and revocations that were being violated. Therefore, in a subsequent survey, the Research and Development Branch checked the driver records of the suspended and revoked drivers in a fatal accident sample for the year 1993. A comparison of the percentage distribution of the accident sample and DMV file population by the reason for the suspension/revocation is shown in the table below.
Reason for license suspension/revocation
% of S/R population
Proportion of S/R fatal accidents
|physical & mental|
|failure to appear|
|DUI related, including insurance proof|
Note. The percentage of the file population and 2-vehicle fatal accident population who are suspended or revoked are, respectively, 5.2% and 14.0%.
In terms of relative risk, drivers suspended and revoked for DUI or negligent driving have the highest over-involvement indices. This finding is consistent with numerous previous research studies showing that repeat traffic offenders and convicted drunk or impaired drivers have much higher rates of accidents than do other groups. Although the negligent operator group has the highest relative risk index, the DUI group represents a much larger absolute public safety risk because of their population volume (31.5% vs. 4.2%).
Several qualifications regarding application of the induced exposure method are discussed in the formal publication. However, even allowing for considerable error in the assumptions underlying the method, the central message is clear: many unlicensed and suspended and revoked drivers continue to drive and represent significant public safety risks. Better methods are needed for identifying and controlling unlicensed driving in California.
The complete paper appears in Accident Analysis and Prevention, 29(1), (“Estimating the exposure and fatal crash rates of suspended/revoked and unlicensed drivers in California,” authored by D. J. DeYoung, R. C. Peck, and C. J. Helander.)