Many drivers allow their driver’s license to lapse or expire. Can an unlicensed driver recover damages from a motor vehicle collision? The short answer is yes.


Anyone in California who drives without a driver’s license or has allowed a license to lapse or expire is considered an unlicensed driver.


An unlicensed driver is not automatically at fault for an accident. Many factors are considered to determine if a driver is at fault. One crucial element is the experience of the driver. Inexperienced drivers are often a cause of accidents. They don’t know the rules of the road. They don’t know how to control their vehicle. They exercise poor judgment.

Many inexperienced drivers are also unlicensed. The fact they were operating a vehicle without a license may be relevant as showing their lack of experience.

On the other hand, an unlicensed driver does not automatically mean he is inexperienced. Many experienced drivers allow their license to expire. They forget to renew it before their birthday.

Thus, driving without a license may or may not be a cause of an accident. It is just one factor to consider.


Unlicensed drivers sometimes drive without insurance. California punishes those who drive without insurance. The law prevents unlicensed drivers from collecting noneconomic damages suffered in an accident.

The law allows an injured victim to recover two kinds of damages when injured in an accident, called economic and noneconomic damages. “Economic” losses include property damage, past medical expenses, past lost wages, and medical costs for future care, as examples. “Noneconomic” damages include pain and suffering, and emotional distress, as examples.

As examples, an uninsured person whose car was damaged could recover his property damage. If he suffered injuries and underwent treatment, he could collect the total amount of his medical bills. If he missed time from work, he could obtain the total amount of his lost wages. However, he would not receive any money for pain and suffering related to his injuries.


There are exceptions to the law that prevents those operating a motor vehicle without insurance from collecting noneconomic damages. One exception is if the uninsured driver is driving someone else’s car which is covered by insurance. As an example, the parent of an uninsured child may give the child permission to drive the parent’s insured vehicle. If the child gets in an accident, the child would be considered covered by the parents’ insurance. The second exception is if the uninsured driver was operating a company car when an accident occurred. The employer’s insurance would cover the driver.


California law requires all motorists to be licensed. However, the absence of a license does not automatically result in a finding the driver was negligent. Thus, if you were an unlicensed driver injured in a car accident you may be entitled to full compensation. You should contact MCIS to discuss your case.