Driving Without a License
(Colorado 42-2-101 C.R.S.)

police officer giving driver a ticket

What does it mean to drive without a license in Colorado?

It is unlawful to drive in Colorado if you do not possess a current, valid driver's license or learner's permit.

This is a different violation than driving with a license that has been revoked or suspended (an offense known as Colorado “driving under restraint”).

The consequences of driving without a license in Colorado

Driving without a license in Colorado is a class B traffic infraction if:

  • You hold a valid license, but you did not have it with you when you were pulled over, or
  • Your prior Colorado driver's license has been expired (not suspended or revoked) for less than one year (provided you renew it).

As an infraction, the penalty for first-time Colorado driving without a license is a fine of $15-$100. If you do it more than once, you will also get 6 points on your Colorado DMV driving record.

If you haven't been issued a Colorado driver's license at all, driving without a license is a Colorado class 2 misdemeanor.

As a misdemeanor, penalties for driving in Colorado without a license can include:

10 – 90 days in county jail, and/or
A fine of $150-$300.

A second or subsequent misdemeanor conviction for driving without a license can also delay getting a Colorado driver's license for one year.

Our caring Colorado criminal defense attorneys can help

Colorado's law on driving without a license is full of nuances and exceptions. If you are facing a conviction because you drove without a valid license, we invite you contact us for a free consultation.

And to help you better understand the consequences of driving without a license in Colorado, our Colorado DUI defense lawyers discuss the following, below:

Colorado driver's license

1. The difference between Colorado driving without a license and driving with a suspended or revoked license

Colorado Revised Statutes 42-2-101(1), C.R.S. provides:

"Except as otherwise provided in part 4 of this article for commercial drivers, no person shall drive any motor vehicle upon a highway in this state unless such person has been issued a currently valid driver's or minor driver's license or an instruction permit by the department under this article."

The law also requires that you have such license or permit in your immediate possession whenever you drive.1

The key words in this law are “currently valid.” If you had a driver's license, but it was revoked or suspended for any reason, you commit the more serious crime of Colorado driving “under restraint.” And if the restraint was for an alcohol- or drug-related offense, the consequences include mandatory jail time, a fine and an extension of the period during which you cannot lawfully drive.2

2. Driving a vehicle of the wrong class

You also violate Colorado 42-2-101, C.R.S. when you drive a type or general class of motor vehicle for which your driver's license is not valid.3

Vehicles that require a special Colorado driver's license include:

Motorcycles and
Commercial vehicles which:

  • Have a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more,
  • Are designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver), or
  • Are transporting hazardous materials.

3. What if I just didn't have my license with me?

42-2-101(3), C.R.S. provides:

"No person shall drive any motor vehicle upon a highway in this state unless such person has in his or her immediate possession a current driver's or minor driver's license or an instruction permit issued by the department under this article."

42-2-101(5), C.R.S. provides:

"No person who has been issued a currently valid driver's or minor driver's license or an instruction permit shall operate a motor vehicle upon a highway in this state without having such license or permit in such person's immediate possession."

However, the court will dismiss this last charge if:

  • At before or at your scheduled court appearance, 
  • you show the court a currently valid license or permit.4

You cannot directly replace a lost, stolen, or destroyed Colorado driver's license,  but you can renew your driving privilege at your local Colorado DMV office or, in some cases, by mail or online. Upon issuance of your new license, you old Colorado's driver's license will be cancelled.

4. What if my Colorado driver's license recently expired?

42-2-101(2), C.R.S. provides:

"No person shall drive any motor vehicle upon a highway in this state if such person's driver's or minor driver's license has been expired for one year or less and such person has not been issued another such license by the department or by another state or country subsequent to such expiration."

However, if your license has been expired for less than one year, the court will dismiss the charge against you if:

  • at or before your scheduled court appearance, 
  • you show the court a currently valid driver's or minor driver's license.5

5. When can I drive without a Colorado driver's license?

5.1. Emergencies

You are permitted to drive in Colorado without a current valid driver's license if:

  • it is necessary to prevent a serious and imminent injury, and
  • the injury was not caused by your driving.6

However, the burden is on you to establish that there was an emergency serious enough to justify your driving without a license.7

5.2. Out-of-state licenses

If you have recently become a Colorado resident, your out-of-state license is good for 30 days after you become a resident.8

As a temporary visitor, you do not need a Colorado driver's license if:

  • You are a non-resident,
  • You are at least sixteen years of age, and
  • You have in your immediate possession a valid driver's license issued by your state or country of residence.

If your state or country of residence does not require a driver's license, you may drive for up to 90 days per calendar year, if:

  • You own the vehicle,
  • The vehicle is registered in your state or country of residence, and 
  • You have in your immediate possession a registration card showing such ownership and registration.9.

Non-resident students may also drive in Colorado if:

  • They are at least 16 years old,
  • They are temporarily residing in Colorado for the principal purpose of furthering their education,
  • They have a valid driver's license from their state of residence, and 
  • They are considered a nonresident for tuition purposes by the educational institution at which they are studying.

5.3. Military personnel

If you are a current member of the U.S. military, you may legally drive without a license in Colorado if:

  • You are operating a federally owned military motor vehicle while serving in the armed forces of the United States,10
  • You are a non-resident on active duty in the armed forces of the United States and you have in your possession a valid driver's license issued by your state of domicile,11 or
  • You have a valid license issued by the U.S. armed forces in another country and it is has been less than 45 days since your return from duty outside the United States.12

Spouses of members of the armed forces of the United States may drive without a license in Colorado if:

  • They are accompanying their spouse on a military or naval assignment in Colorado, and
  • They have a current valid driver's license issued by another state and are not otherwise prohibited from driving in Colorado.13

5.4. Farm equipment

You do not need a driver's license to temporarily drive or operate a road machine, farm tractor, or other implement of husbandry in Colorado.14

6. Consequences of driving without a license in Colorado

6.1. As a traffic infraction

Driving on a recently expired license or when you don't have your valid license in your immediate possession is not a crime. It is a class B Colorado traffic infraction.

The penalty for an infraction under Colorado's driving without a license law is a fine of $15-$100.15

Additionally, a second or subsequent infraction will add 6 points to your Colorado DMV driving record.16

6.2. As a misdemeanor

In all other circumstances, driving without a license is a Colorado class 2 traffic misdemeanor.

Penalties for Colorado misdemeanor driving without a license can include:

  • 10-90 days in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of $150-$300.17

In addition, the Colorado DMV has the right to delay issuing you a driver's license for twelve months.18

However, the DMV will not suspend or deny a license on this basis without giving you the right to a hearing first.19

7. Colorado driver's licenses and undocumented immigrants

The Colorado Road and Community Safety Act – CO-RCSA SB251 – allows undocumented and temporary immigrants to obtain a Colorado driver's license.

If you are a temporary resident, you may obtain a driver's license at any Colorado DMV license office.

If you are unable to prove lawful residency at all, you must apply in person at one of the following Colorado DMV locations:

  • Denver Central - 1865 W. Mississippi Ave., Suite C, Denver
  • Grand Junction - 222 S. 6th St., #111, Grand Junction
  • Colorado Springs - 2447 N. Union Blvd., Colorado Springs

8. How do I defend a charge of driving in Colorado without a license?

The defenses to driving without a license in Colorado depend on the specific charge and the facts of your case. Common defenses often include:

  • You had a valid license but forgot to bring it with you.
  • Your Colorado driver's license was lost, stolen or destroyed.
  • Your driver's license had only recently expired and you renewed it after you were ticketed.
  • Your truck was below the weight limit requiring you obtain a Colorado commercial driver's license (CDL).
  • You only drove because it was a genuine emergency.
  • You were not required to have a license because:
    • You are an active member of the military.
    • You had a valid out-of-state license and were just visiting Colorado.
    • You just moved to Colorado and had an out-of-state license.
    • You were temporarily driving farm equipment.

Call us for help…

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If you were charged with driving without a license in Colorado, we invite you to call our Denver criminal and DUI defense attorneys for a free consultation.

Don't let a simple mistake deprive you of your Colorado driving privilege. Let us help you fight the charges and protect your right to drive.

Our caring Denver DUI lawyers are located at:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
1400 16th Street
16 Market Square
Denver CO 80202
(720) 955-6112

Legal references:

  1. 42-2-101(5), C.R.S.
  2. 42-2-138(d)(I), C.R.S.
  3. 42-2-101(4), C.R.S.
  4. 42-2-101(7), C.R.S.
  5. 42-2-101(6), C.R.S.
  6. 42-2-101(8)(a), C.R.S.
  7. 42-2-101(9) C.R.S.
  8. 42-2-101(2), C.R.S.
  9. 42-2-102(1)(c), C.R.S.
  10. 42-2-102 (1)(a), C.R.S.
  11. 42-2-102 (1)(d), C.R.S.
  12. 42-2-102 (1)(d), C.R.S.
  13. 42-2-102 (1)(e), C.R.S.
  14. 42-2-102 (1)(b), C.R.S.
  15. 42-4-1701(3)(a)(I), C.R.S.
  16. 42-2-101(11), C.R.S.
  17. 42-4-1701(3)(a)(II)(A), C.R.S
  18. 42-2-127(1)(b), C.R.S.
  19. 42-2-127(1)(d), C.R.S. 

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