Driving without a license is a serious offense that can come with hefty financial penalties. This doesn’t stop it from being one of America’s most commonly issued citations. Drivers whose operating licenses have been suspended—or who never bothered to obtain licenses in the first place—cause thousands of traffic accidents per year. However, they’re not always at fault. Learn more about the relationship between accident liability and driving without a license.

Driving Without a License

According to a recent ABC News report that corroborated a seminal AAA study, about 20% of all fatal U.S. car accidents are caused by drivers who lack valid operating licenses. 50% of accidents that involve drivers under the age of 34 also involve an unlicensed driver. Similarly, 50% of all drunk-driving accidents involve unlicensed operators.

Negligence Still Trumps Licensing

Unlicensed drivers aren’t always liable for the accidents in which they’re involved. In fact, the same rules apply to all drivers. Someone driving without a license who obeys the speed limit, follows posted signs and adheres to local ordinances can’t legally be held liable for crashes that they don’t cause. A licensed driver who drives recklessly will be at fault for a violent encounter with an unlicensed driver who operates lawfully.

The “Permissive Use” Doctrine

It’s important to note that “absentee” car owners can be held liable for the actions of unlicensed drivers under the “permissive use” doctrine. This commonly accepted legal precedent states that car owners who permit specific drivers to use their vehicles may be responsible for what happens next. This commonly occurs when an individual allows a friend to borrow his or her car or a business owner hires a driver to operate a company vehicle.

Recourse for Everyone

For unlicensed drivers, “permissive use” doesn’t result in the wholesale transfer of liability: Negligent drivers of any sort are still responsible for the damage that they cause. However, the doctrine may provide accident victims with another avenue of recourse. Separately, unlicensed drivers who follow the letter of the law and don’t exhibit negligence can’t be held responsible for an accident in which they’re involved. Of course, they can always be cited for driving without a license.

Taking the Next Steps

Since one in five fatal car accidents is caused by an unlicensed driver, licensed drivers have every reason to be wary of them. However, responsibility works both ways: Unlicensed drivers often do nothing to cause the accidents in which they’re involved. Regardless of whether you’re a licensed or unlicensed driver, it’s crucial that you understand your rights and have the tools to prove negligence. For more information, call our experienced Indianapolis, IN accident attorneys at (317) 842-8283 or fill out our contact form here.