Imagine you pop out to pick up your child at soccer practice. While waiting in the parking lot, you realize that you have left home without your wallet. Then the unthinkable happens; you get pulled over during a random police spot check and you’re caught without your licence. Will you receive a ticket? Should you save a photo of your licence on your phone, just in case? Let’s examine the consequences of being caught driving without a licence in Ontario, why you will be considered “unlicensed,” and how this can affect your insurance.

Having a driver’s licence: It’s the law

Section 33 of Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act says all drivers have to carry a licence at all times while “in charge of a motor vehicle or street car.” In the example above, if you fail to produce your licence, police will assume you don’t have a valid driver’s licence. Therefore, it is up to the police officer to decide whether or not to issue you a ticket or a warning. Should the officer decide to only give you a warning, you will still have to give your name and address to identify yourself. However, if the officer does decide to give you a ticket, it then becomes your responsibility to produce your licence in court to avoid the punishment.

I do have a driver’s licence, but don’t have it with me

In some cases, (like our example above) you may realize only after being pulled over that you have forgotten your licence. Even though you own a valid driver’s licence, you will be unable to prove this to the police officer. Is there another option to having your licence card with you? Simply put, no. “The Ministry (Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation) does not currently accept photos of licenses in lieu of the actual card,” the MTO says in an e-mail statement. It will be difficult for the police officer to verify the photograph for authenticity.

Who is an “unlicensed driver”?

You are a driver without a licence due to any of the following:

  • Licence suspension
  • Your licence was taken away
  • Inappropriate
  • Licence expiry
  • You have a cancellation or were denied a licence
  • You’re a driver who has not gone through the process necessary to obtain a licence

Any driver who is driving without proper qualifications is considered unlicensed. In Ontario, 2,000 fatal and injury crashes occur each year involving drivers without a licence. According to the MTO, approximately one in 14 fatal crashes involves an unlicensed driver. Although you may have a valid licence, the burden of proof will still be on you to go to court to prove that.

What happens if I’m caught driving without a licence in Ontario?

It is against the law to drive without a licence. The Criminal Code of Canada states it is illegal for a person to operate a vehicle when they do not have qualifications. However, each province in Canada deals with the issue differently. In Ontario, if drivers are caught with an invalid licence or inability to show proof of said licence, their vehicle will be impounded for seven days. This includes a novice driver who is violating the GDL restrictions. The Ontario Highway Traffic Act specifies “driving without a proper licence has an offence with a fine of at least $200 and up to $1,000. Novice drivers will have their licence suspended if they breach any of the GDL program requirements.”

I forgot to renew my licence and now it is expired

Typically, your driver’s licence expiry dates sync up with your licence plate sticker expiry. In September of 2021, the province reinstated renewal requirements for driver’s licences, licence plate stickers, and licence plates. You can choose to have ServiceOntario remind you via digital reminders, by way of email, SMS/text or voicemail reminders, 30 and 60 days in advance of their renewal date. (Click here to sign up for ServiceOntario digital renewal reminders.) Once you receive the ServiceOntario digital renewal reminders, you can then renew these documents through, where over 40 transaction services are available online, 24/7.

Should you let your licence expire for too long, you’ll have to restart the licensing process from the beginning. If your driver’s licence is expired for more than three years, you’ll have to reapply for a licence and meet all the requirements of graduated licensing. This includes passing the G1 and G2 tests.

What are the consequences in Ontario?

To be legally eligible to drive, you must hold a valid licence of the appropriate class for the vehicle you are driving. This rule applies to anyone driving a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s licence. If you have a driver’s licence that is now expired and you do not renew it, you can be guilty of this offence.

Upon conviction of driving with no licence, the different penalties are:

  • Fines of between $200–$1,000
  • A conviction on your driving record for three years
  • Demerit points
  • A rise in your insurance rates
  • Potential jail time

There are two different types of “driving without a licence” situations. The first one is driving without ever having a licence before in your lifetime. Driving with a licence suspension is the second scenario.

Driving a motor vehicle with no licence

Under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act (HTA) section 32(1): “No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway unless the motor vehicle is within a class of motor vehicles in respect of which the person holds a driver’s licence issued to him or her under this Act.”  R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 32 (1). Charges for driving while never applying for a driver’s licence will often result in a ticket, which is a regular arguement in court. Tickets carry a $260 court fine, plus a $5 court cost. While you will not earn demerit points, it will still result in a record of the conviction. That record can be the reason for a higher cost of auto insurance in the future if you do decide to get your licence afterwards.

Driving with a licence suspension

The government, court and/or the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario can suspend your driver’s licence for a variety of reasons. This may include demerit points and a DUI. The full list can be found on the MTO website. Every person who drives a motor vehicle with a licence suspension is guilty of an offence and can face:

  • A fine of not less than $1,000 and not more than $5,000 for a first offence
  • Each subsequent offence, a fine of not less than $2,000 and not more than $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both.

Licence suspensions mean that the driver is banned from driving a motor vehicle on the roadway for any reason in the province of Ontario.

The effect on car insurance rates

If you receive charges for driving without your driver’s licence, this offence will stay on your driver’s abstract for three years. It can significantly raise your insurance premiums. Why? Because insurance policies are written with the condition that you have authorization, by-law, to operate a vehicle. This means having a valid driver’s licence. Should you get into a car accident while your licence is not valid, your insurance company can refuse to cover the damage. Unfortunately, you can be personally responsible for any property damage and personal injuries out-of-pocket. If you receive injuries from another driver, not having a valid licence can also prevent you from being able to sue an at-fault driver. Additionally, if you get a ticket for this offence, it can increase your car insurance premiums.

In conclusion

Driving in Ontario is a privilege, not a right. Just because you pass your tests and pay your MTO fees, doesn’t mean that you will always have a driver’s licence. To protect Ontario citizens and promote safe driving, the province has strict laws regarding individuals who drive without a valid licence. If you make the decision to drive without a licence, it can come with great risks. Penalties can vary from demerit points and hefty fines to possible jail time. You may also see an increase in your car insurance premiums as a result.

Remember, your insurance policy is only valid if you have authorization by-law to operate a vehicle, meaning a valid driver’s licence. Speak with one of our isure brokers today about how driving without a driver’s licence in Ontario can affect premiums.

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