Consequences of driving without a licence can be harsh

Driving without a licence

A reader has asked: "What would happen to me if I was caught driving without a drivers licence?"

It is a question that will expose serious consequences for you and the owner of the vehicle you are driving if it is not your own. I will confine my answer to the situation where you don't have a driver's licence either because you did not get one, it was expired or you did not have it properly reinstated after a suspension or prohibition.

Before the first impound

Generally an unlicensed driver runs into trouble because they have done something to attract the attention of police. Most officers will write the ticket for that infraction and query ICBC records to determine the driver's status. If you are unlicensed and this is the first time you have been caught, you will also receive a ticket for driving without a valid driver's licence.

It will be the end of the trip as you will be prevented from driving further.

Police must impound the vehicle

If you have had a previous conviction for driving without a driver's licence, your ICBC licence record will be flagged for a vehicle impoundment. If the flag is present on your driving record, police are required to impound the vehicle that you are driving by the Motor Vehicle Act, regardless of the fact that it might not be your vehicle.

Imagine having to tell the boss or a rental company that their business vehicle is not going to be available for a while.

Length of the impoundment

If this is your first impoundment, the vehicle will be held for seven days. If you choose to drive without a driver's licence again within a two year period, the impoundment length increases to 30 days for the second and 60 days for subsequent offences.

In addition to the impoundment, you will probably receive another ticket for not having a valid driver's licence.

Impoundment costs

Responsibility for the payment of towing and storage fees belongs to the owner of the vehicle. If they were not the driver at the time of the impound, they may recover costs from the driver in the same manner as any other bad debt.

The cost of an impoundment varies depending on where it happens within the province due to the cost of storage. The vehicle impound refund calculator will give you an estimation of the costs involved.

Reviewing an impoundment

A seven-day impoundment is not subject to a review.

Thirty-day and sixty-day impoundments may be reviewed for the following reasons:

• You did not give consent to use the vehicle to the person that was driving
• Your vehicle was stolen
• The driver renews their driver's licence
• Compassionate grounds ie: economic hardship

Denial of insurance coverage

A condition of your insurance contract is that the vehicle driver must be properly licensed. If not, the contract can be considered void and coverage in the event of a collision may be refused. This can be a complicated situation and if you are interested, you should discuss if with your insurer to determine what the outcome would be.

Driving without a valid driver's licence has many pitfalls regardless of whether you do so accidentally by missing a renewal, or deliberately through personal choice.

Allowing others to use your vehicle

If you lend your vehicle for any reason, it is wise to be certain that the person who will be driving it has a valid driver's licence.

New drivers need to know, and follow, the rules

Driver's licence restrictions

My girls attend high school and, daily, I watch as many of the students fill their cars with friends while displaying the "N" reports a reader. The reader goes on to say they spoke to their girls about this and the girls said these young people just ignore that stipulation prohibiting this because no one checks and it is a nuisance being allowed to only carry one passenger.

These youths aren't making the connections when they have the "N" designation as to what they are doing and the consequences that will follow should they be involved in a collision.

Unfortunately, the reader is not telling me anything new—and it is not just youths who do it. It is the adults too.

I once stopped a woman who was driving with an "L". Her husband and two children in car seats were also in the car. Her licence restrictions allowed her only one passenger. I was able to extend my vocabulary with some of the words that were directed at me after I served that ticket.

When the Graduated Licensing Program debuted in B.C., police took the view that there should be little leeway given to new drivers so that they would learn quickly that failing to follow the rules had significant consequences, which really meant loss of their licence for a period of time. It was hoped that if they learned this at the start of their driving career, perhaps less correction would be needed later on.

Whether this policing attitude was prevalent or not, it soon became apparent that RoadSafetyBC was handing out a significant number of prohibitions.

New drivers face licence sanctions when they receive four to six penalty points and a moving violation, coupled with failing to display a new driver sign, puts them there with one traffic stop. That resulted in the creation of a charging section for failing to display the sign that carried no points.

Failing to follow other restrictions still results in three penalty points on conviction.

Is the system working? Maybe, but then there are multi-fatality crashes occurring. Had a driver followed the rules, perhaps there would have been fewer deaths, or even no collision as there would not have been an audience to perform for. Perhaps officers need to go back to issuing the three-point ticket for all restriction violations and refusing to let the vehicle proceed until all is in order. Short-term pain for long-term gain.

Parents have the biggest stake in the solution. The police cannot set the attitude at home and it is the responsibility of parents to see that young drivers follow all the rules. After all, they supply the permissions for both licences and vehicles until the youth reaches age 18.

B.C. Driver's Licence Restrictions


06 Ignition Interlock Required

10 Operation of motorcycle allowed between sunrise and sunset only. No passengers permitted on motorcycle

11 Operation of motorcycle permitted only while under the direct supervision of an adult who holds a valid Class 6 driver’s licence. Maximum speed of 60 km/h

12 Daylight hours only

13 Class 6 or 8 not permitted to carry passengers

14 No Hwy 99 South of Vancouver or Hwy 1 East of Van or West of Hwy 9

15 Permitted to operate vehicles with air brakes

16 Not permitted to operate Class 2 or 4

17 Not permitted to operate buses

18 Permitted to operate single trucks with air brakes on industrial roads

19 Permitted to operate truck trailer with air brakes on industrial roads

20 Permitted to operate truck trailer of any GVW without air brakes

21 Corrective lenses required

22 *W* commercial class not qualified in USA

23 Hearing aid required

24 Class 6 or 8 restricted to motor scooters

25 Fitted prosthesis/leg brace required

26 Specified vehicle modifications required

28 Restricted to automatic transmission

35 Not permitted to exceed 60 km/h

36 Not permitted to exceed 80 km/h

38 Class 8L motorcycle learner licence restriction

39 GLP – Qualified supervisor age 25+ required, 1 passenger limit

43 GLP - Class 7 Learner's Licence. Restricted to 5 am to midnight only

45 GLP - 1 passenger unless supervisor age 25+. Family exempt

46 GLP - 0 BAC/BDC; Must display *L* Sign; no electronic device use

47 GLP - 0 BAC/BDC; Must display *N* Sign; no electronic device use

51 May be either a restriction or an endorsement. Follow the specific criteria written on your licence.

When highways are closed

We have come to expect that our highways will always be open to us to use at any time under all conditions. When something occurs, such as a serious collision, some drivers still think that their convenience takes priority over all other issues and the highway should not be closed to them.

This was the case recently when firefighters were directing traffic at a collision in an intersection. Drivers were aggressively disregarding instructions aimed at keeping the scene safe for emergency personnel as well as to share the open lanes with the traffic that was present.

Any highway closure is actually the responsibility of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, usually accomplished through the road maintenance contractor. Vancouver Island Highway Patrol has agreed with the Ministry that closures of 30 minutes or less in duration can be managed by the police. Similar agreements may be in place elsewhere in our province.

If the closure is going to be longer than that period of time, it becomes the responsibility of the road maintenance contractor who will provide the necessary manpower and equipment to close the highway and look after redirection of traffic if it is possible.

Police do have powers to direct traffic as set out in the Motor Vehicle Act and often use them to effect temporary closures in order to facilitate rescue operations during a serious crash.

The police have the responsibility to investigate a crash properly. Due to the nature of some crash scenes in order to gather the evidence completely and safely, the highway must be closed for a period of time.

The Occupational Health and Safety Regulation requires that "effective traffic control is provided and used whenever traffic could be hazardous to a worker." This would include all other personnel at the scene including fire, Emergency Health Services and towing.

In the case of the aggressive drivers mentioned earlier, the firefighters were acting as traffic control persons and their directions must be obeyed.

If you were the victim in a crash, you would expect any needed emergency assistance and that the police to do a thorough investigation. With that expectation comes the duty to extend the same consideration to others. This may include being inconvenienced by not having the expected use of the highway.

Know before you go: Current Highway Incidents on DriveBC Website

This story is also posted on DriveSmartBC.


Name the driver responsible

The state of New South Wales, Australia, has just tightened its rules on intersection safety camera violations. Companies were not nominating the drivers of their vehicles who were responsible for the violations as that state requires. This amounted to approximately 7,000 events that drivers were not held accountable for.

New South Wales operates an intersection safety camera system similar to the one here in B.C. There are two significant differences though: mobile and average speed cameras are used and drivers receive points when convicted.

Vehicle owners can nominate the driver when someone else was using their vehicle and drivers who were using someone else's vehicle can nominate themselves.

The entire process can be accomplished online and camera images can be accessed by providing the penalty notice number and date of the offence.

Effective in July 2021 a penalty of up to $22,000 could be imposed on companies who fail to nominate the driver responsible for an intersection safety camera violation.

The state publishes an annual review of speed camera programs, the latest available is for 2019. It claims that at fixed speed camera locations there has been a:

  • 36 per cent reduction in casualty crashes
  • 74 per cent reduction in fatalities
  • 41 per cent reduction in injuries

It represents a saving of $530 million to the community.

The reductions at camera locations compare to the state-wide change over the same period:

  • 18 per cent reduction in casualty crashes
  • 35 per cent reduction in fatalities
  • 20 per cent reduction in injuries

Their red light camera program reports similar numbers and includes a 52% reduction in pedestrian casualties compared to 30% in general.

Revenue from the cameras fund road safety initiatives including engineering works, enhanced enforcement by the NSW Police Force, public education campaigns and community grants. B.C. also follows this practice, but does not restrict the use to fund road safety specifically.

Accountability is one way of encouraging drivers to share the roads safely. While New South Wales is strengthening it, B.C. seems to have chosen to go in the opposite direction. Today the only intersection safety camera violation that forms part of any driving record in B.C. is when a commercial vehicle with a National Safety Code safety certificate is identified. Those convictions form part of the company profile.

The Intersection Safety Camera (ISC) program is not effective when the vehicle involved in the violation is towing a trailer as that licence plate does not identify the motor vehicle pulling it.

With our recent changes to ICBC coverage we certainly have a stake as victims in seeing that crashes are reduced. Nominating the driver for ISC offences is one tool that we could use to raise accountability for bad drivers.

This column is also on DriveSmartBC.

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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