What happens if you can't replace your drivers license in California?
January 12, 2015 5:46 PM   Subscribe

I lost my California driver's license. I mean I physically lost it, it wasn't revoked or suspended. Due to DMV backlogs, I can't replace it for another six weeks. What will happen if I'm pulled over?

My wallet was lost or stolen and my CA drivers license was in it. Replacing it requires going to the DMV in person, so I made an appointment at the local DMV for their next available appointment time, which is in late February. What will happen if I'm pulled over without a license? I know you aren't supposed to drive without one, but seriously...they had no appointments for two months, do they really expect people to not drive for that long?

Please only answers from folks with factual or anecdotal information about the state of California -- I don't need speculative answers or answers about the situation in other states. Thanks!

PS I know I could go to another, less-local DMV, I am considering doing that, whether I choose to do it will depend in part on the answers to this question.
posted by phoenixy to Law & Government (18 answers total)
You can walk in. You'll stand in line for a very long time, but you will get in.
posted by janey47 at 5:48 PM on January 12, 2015 [19 favorites]

I've never made an appointment with the CA DMV, and I've never had a problem waiting in line. The last time I was there (when I got my license, years ago), I just got there when they opened and it was actually a pretty easy experience. I also chose a less-busy location to go to, so that probably helped too.
posted by teponaztli at 5:56 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Depending on where you are in CA, there are certain DMVs that are a short drive but remarkably shorter in terms of wait time. E.g. if you're in the Bay Area, drive north of the Bay Area (can't remember where, but it is about a 70 minute drive from Berkeley...and a 10 minute wait in line).

I wouldn't wait, if you must drive between now and late February you simply must have an operator's permit.

Also, showing up on a Tuesday morning at, say, 7 a.m. seems like a great way to get to the front of the line when they open.
posted by arnicae at 5:57 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

FYI, the relevant code is 12951. (a), though I'm not sure precisely how to interpret it in this situation, particularly "the charge shall not be dismissed unless the court has been furnished proof by the Department of Motor Vehicles that the temporary, interim, or duplicate license was issued prior to the arrest."
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:09 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Plug different offices into the schedule an appointment form, and you'll get earlier dates. I just tried several and got Fairfield and Concord - Feb 5 (the Change Info button on the page that shows the date of the appointment will take you to a form where you can try a different office).

If you're willing to drive far, Fresno has an appointment Jan 15.
posted by zippy at 6:16 PM on January 12, 2015

What will happen if I'm pulled over without a license?

What I'd guess will happen is that the officer pulling you over will do a lookup to see if you have a valid current license, and if you do you'll probably be cited for not having your license on you as well as whatever you were also pulled over for. Depending on the officer, you might get other extra attention, or you might get sent on your way. Later in court you may be able to get a citation for not having the license on you dismissed.

(If your license is suspended or otherwise not currently valid, you should definitely avoid driving; that can get you in jailtime or hefty-fine trouble.)

Nthing the advice to just show up at your local DMV or pick another one.
posted by weston at 6:22 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Note that driving without your physical license is not the same as driving without being licensed:

What If I Had a Valid License but Did Not Have It with Me?
The California Vehicle Code punishes operating a vehicle without being validly licensed, not for driving without a license in your possession at the time of the violation.

If you did have a valid driver’s license, but simply did not have it in your possession, this is a different violation. This type of infraction is listed under Section 12591 and may be dismissed if you are able to prove that you were validly licensed at the time you were pulled over.

posted by puritycontrol at 6:22 PM on January 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

When I did this once, I went to the DMV in San Francisco about 15 minutes before it opened. I was out the door with a paper temporary license maybe five minutes after opening. This approach may well be faster than coming for an appointment, when the place is already busy.
posted by zachlipton at 7:21 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

You don't need an appointment. You can walk into any open California DMV, wait in line and apply for a duplicate license. It's the same form as the regular license (form DL 44). The duplicate license fee is $27. They will give you an interim paper license that will serve as a placeholder should you get pulled over. The cops will accept that as your license until your plastic one is mailed to you.

Go early, about 15-30 minutes before they open. You should be in an out in less than an hour if the line isn't very long. You can find office location and hours on the CA DMV website.
posted by i feel possessed at 7:28 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do you have AAA? Replacing lost driver's licenses is one of the DMV services they provide. (I think the only time I've stepped foot in a DMV in the last decade was when I needed a new photo.)
posted by Room 641-A at 7:40 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

The AAA does not offer many useful DMV services in California.
posted by that girl at 7:52 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just wait in line. Or go to a DMV that is further away from you. When I scheduled my DMV appointment, next day was available. I moved my appointment literally like 5 times and next day was always available.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:11 PM on January 12, 2015

Like everyone else said, just go to the dmv, wait in line and get a paper copy that day. The plastic one can take 6-8 weeks to arrive so might as well get the process started asap.
posted by Toddles at 8:42 PM on January 12, 2015

I went to the DMV in San Francisco about 15 minutes before it opened. I was out the door with a paper temporary license maybe five minutes after opening.

My experience in SF is that you need to show up closer to an hour before opening. By opening time the line usually extends across the parking lot and around the building.
posted by ryanrs at 9:26 PM on January 12, 2015

I lost my CA license last year and had the same q as you. Technically you're not supposed to drive without your temp license but I read that if you carry a printout of your appointment confirm in the car that reduces the likelihood you'll be charged if stopped. Or as others say you can just stand in line w/o appointment.
posted by mono blanco at 9:50 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was just at the Oakland DMV last Monday around 3pm and the walk-in line wound around like a mythical snake and twisted all the way out, deep into the parking lot. I talked to someone who said lines are extra crazy now because of a law that eases licensing requirements. I wouldn't go without an appointment, personally. We made the appointment only about four days before the date.
posted by equestrian at 11:49 PM on January 12, 2015

I lose my license fairly regularly. Most recently, I made an appointment online and was in and out in 10 minutes. No joke. I had brought books and letters to write and everything.

Then I got a paper license to take home with me -no photo but good in case of getting pulled over. The real license showed up way earlier than they said- like in 2 or 3 weeks.

EDIT: The appointment was in a week. I went to the El Cerrito DMV.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:19 AM on January 13, 2015

Anecdata: I was pulled over once while not in posession of my licence. The cop took my number ( I have it memorized) and asked for some other photo id. I wasn't given any trouble at all. (Oakland, CA)
posted by k8oglyph at 7:41 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

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