Got Caught Without A Motorcycle License? (Jail, Penalty, What now?)

A motorcycle is a very convenient means of transport. But sometimes, its convenience can make you forgetful. I’ve had days when I took out my ride in a hurry and forgot my license at home. While it wasn’t intentional, I did worry during those times that I might get caught. 

So, what happens if you get caught without a license? Whether you own a valid motorcycle license or not, you will have to pay a hefty fine if you are caught without it on you. The police officer can also impound your ride, which you will later have to retrieve after paying the penalty. 

In more severe cases, motorcycle riders may also face jail time. Moreover, your insurance coverage may lapse if you are caught in an accident without your driver’s license.

If you get caught without a motorcycle license

Motorcycle drivers in the United States need a proper license to drive motorcycles, including three-wheeled vehicles. This can be a separate motorcycle Class M license (like in California). Or a motorcycle endorsement on your regular driver’s license (like in Colorado). 

But many need to follow this rule. In 2019, 30% of motorcyclists did not have a valid motorcycle license when involved in fatal motorcycle crashes. This is according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA). 

 The NHTSA also found that not being licensed increases your risk of getting involved in a motorcycle accident. It is possible that their being careless might be the common theme here. But that’s just my opinion on this.

All this makes the law take motorcycle safety seriously. So, there are several consequences to not having the proper license to drive a motorbike.  

It is a misdemeanor if you get pulled over while riding a motorcycle without a license or permit. In this case, the police officer can impose a hefty fine. The fine can range from $100 to $1,000. This depends on the policeman and also why you were pulled over.

The police officer can also impound your vehicle. This means you will have to pay for it to be towed to an impoundment lot. And also have to pay a fee to get it back.

You can also face jail time if the police officer believes your offense is serious. For example, if you are a repeat offender. In Louisiana and California, you could get up to 6 months in county jail for not having a license.   

 In some cases, after you’ve shown you have a valid license or motorcycle permit, officers could also revoke it based on the severity of the crime. Getting a motorcycle permit or license again after one has been canceled is much more challenging.

Tip: But if you get pulled over and don’t have your license on you, I suggest you be polite and cooperate with the officer. It is the officer who decides the penalty. So, getting on their good side could save you from a messy situation.

How it also affects insurance

If you are caught in an accident on public roads without having a license, it also affects your insurance coverage. In such cases, even if you have proof of insurance, insurance companies could deem that your coverage has lapsed. 

Getting insurance coverage is also more complicated if the police revoke your license.

Additionally, suppose you don’t have a motorcycle license or learner’s permit. In that case, it is more likely that you don’t have motorcycle insurance either. 

What if your motorcycle license has been suspended or has lapsed?

First, there are consequences to being caught without a license. But it is also serious if the officer finds that your license has lapsed or been suspended. 

If you have yet to renew your license or it has been suspended because you broke some laws, it reflects badly on you. Suspensions also apply for a fixed time. During this time, you cannot ride a motorbike. 

So, this means that you are breaking motorcycle laws by driving without a valid license. And that also makes you guilty of driving when you are not supposed to.   

This means that you could face more fines and longer jail time. It could also affect your ability to get a license easily in the future.

 In California, driving on a suspended license is a misdemeanor. If caught doing so, you could face jail time, up to 3 years of informal probation, and up to $1,000 in fines.

Getting a motorcycle license

All states have several necessary legal requirements you need in order to get an appropriate license. It would be best if you went to your local DMV (Department of motor vehicles) to apply for one. 

Depending on the state you are in and the age you are, you need to pass several tests. They include a vision test, a knowledge test, a written exam, and a road skills test (or a motorcycle road test). 

You also need to pass a motorcycle safety course by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

Additionally, in many states, if you are under 18 years of age, you need to get a motorcycle instruction permit first. The application has to be approved by a parent or legal guardian. Only after holding one for a fixed duration can motorcycle permit holders apply for a proper license. 

All these tests help you understand traffic laws and promote safety. Unlicensed drivers have higher chances of not knowing mandatory traffic rules. This poses a danger to road users and can result in accidents.

It only makes sense that you follow due process to ensure your and the safety of others.

As per data from 2020, motorcycles make up only 3% of all registered vehicles in the United States. However, motorcyclists accounted for 14% of all traffic fatalities, 18% of all occupant fatalities, and 4% of all occupant injuries. 

So, knowledge of traffic laws and passing a motorcycle skills test are crucial to prevent such accidents.

Here’s how to get a motorcycle license in the following states:

StateProcedure for getting a license
MissouriHow To Get A Motorcycle License In Missouri?
WashingtonHow To Get A Motorcycle License In Washington?
AlabamaAt What Age Can You Get A Motorcycle License In Alabama?
ColoradoHow To Get A Motorcycle License In Colorado?
New JerseyHow To Get A Motorcycle License in NJ (New Jersey)?
VirginiaHow To Get A Motorcycle License in VA (Virginia)?
MassachusettsHow To Get A Motorcycle License In MA (Massachusetts)?
IndianaHow To Get A Motorcycle License In Indiana?
OklahomaHow To Get A Motorcycle License In Oklahoma?
New MexicoHow To Get A Motorcycle License In NM? (New Mexico)
South CarolinaHow To Get A Motorcycle License in SC?
MississippiHow To Get A Motorcycle License In Mississippi
HawaiiHow To Get A Motorcycle License In Hawaii?
Rhode IslandHow To Get A Motorcycle License in Rhode Island?
IowaHow To Get A Motorcycle License in Iowa?
North CarolinaHow To Get A Motorcycle License In North Carolina?
LouisianaHow To Get A Motorcycle License In Louisiana?
PennsylvaniaDo You Need A Motorcycle License To Drive A Scooter In Pennsylvania?
New YorkHow Old Do You Have To Be To Get A Motorcycle License In New York?
ArizonaHow To Get A Motorcycle License In Arizona?

In case you are wondering whether a motorcycle license is needed to get motorcycle insurance, here’s where I have covered that.

 How long does it take to get a motorcycle license?

The time it takes to get a motorcycle license depends on several factors. They include your age and prior riding experience. It could take longer for new drivers to get their motorcycle licenses. 

Can you use the motorcycle license of one state in another state?

 Most states, including California, also accept motorcycle licenses issued by other states of the country. For example, if you have a valid motorcycle license from Nevada, you can drive a motorcycle in the state of California

But as mentioned above, not all states need motorcycle riders to have a specific motorcycle license. They only need a motorcycle endorsement on their regular driver’s license. 

So if the state you have moved to requires a motorbike license, then you need to get it within a certain period. For example, in California, you will get 30 days as per state law.

The exception to the rule: when is a Motorcycle License not required?

While riding a motorized vehicle without a motorcycle license is mostly illegal, there can be exceptions to the rule. This can happen when the motorcycle you are riding has a small engine size (49cc or smaller).

In some states, if your motorbike or moped engine is 49cc (cubic centimeters) or smaller, you don’t need a motorcycle license to ride it on public roads. A regular valid driver’s license will do. 

For example, you can drive a scooter with a regular driver’s license in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, and Connecticut. In Georgia, too, you also do not need a license to drive mopeds.

But do check your state’s laws before venturing out without a license. In many states, including Florida, you need a motorcycle license, no matter how small your engine is.   


What happens if you get caught without a motorcycle license? You will get in trouble with the law. Depending on the severity of your offense, you can face fines of up to $1,000. You also run the risk of getting your vehicle impounded and, perhaps, even jail time. 

So, avoid all this by making sure that your valid license is on you at all times. And that your license is valid. 

You should also make sure you are always wearing the correct safety gear while riding. This will keep you safe and also help you avoid being pulled over. 

Aim for a safe and hassle-free ride always. 

Photo of author


Mike, the motorcycle enthusiast behind SuperBike Newbie, fell in love with superbikes during his college years. He owns a diverse range of motorcycles and offers valuable insights into motorcycling advice, maintenance, safety gear, and laws. Despite two decades of riding experience, he continues to learn and shares his knowledge on his website. Mike also has a keen interest in motorcycle club culture. While not a club member, he aspires to be one someday.

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