North Carolina treats driving as a privilege, not a right. It's illegal to drive a motor vehicle -- or even sit in the driver's seat with the motor running -- without a valid driver's license. Driving without a license in North Carolina can result in misdemeanor criminal charges and further license suspensions.
Getting a License
Residents seeking a driver's license in North Carolina must apply at the nearest Department of Motor Vehicles office. The state requires license applicants to bring two documents that prove age and identity, such as a birth certificate. Applicants also must show proof of Social Security, proof of residency and proof of auto liability insurance.
Applicants then must pass a vision test as well as written tests on traffic signs, regulatory signs and driving knowledge. First-time applicants also are required to pass a road test of their driving skills.
Driving Without a License
Once a driver has her license, she's expected to have it with her every time she gets behind the wheel. If she's stopped by law enforcement and doesn't have her license with her, she may be charged with driving without a license in addition to whatever infraction gave rise to the stop. She then must appear in court and show her valid license to a judge to get the charge dropped.
If a law enforcement officer pulls over a driver who doesn't have a valid driver's license, either because it was suspended or because the driver never got one at all, that driver is charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor under N.C. law. If convicted, the driver's license will be suspended for one year if this is his first offense. The state suspends the license for two years after a second offense and permanently on the third offense.
Penalties for a Class 3 misdemeanor vary depending on the offender's criminal record. If the offender has fewer than three prior convictions, he can be charged a fine of up to $200. If he has three or four prior convictions, he may also receive up to 15 days probation. At the judge's discretion, this may include intense daily supervision, commitment to a residential center, or house arrest with electronic monitoring. Offenders with five or more prior convictions may be sentenced to up to 20 days in county jail in addition to fines and license suspension.
Licenses Suspended for Alcohol-Related Offenses
North Carolina treats it more seriously if a resident whose license was suspended for driving while impaired is later caught driving without a license. In this case, the driver is charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. If convicted, he may face up to 60 days in jail, even without any prior convictions. Additionally, while state law sets a maximum possible fine for other misdemeanor classes, fines for Class 1 misdemeanors are left to the judge's discretion.
The judge also may order the offender to abstain from alcohol, and require him to wear an alcohol monitoring device for up to 90 days to ensure compliance with that order.