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There are many cases in which your driver’s license can be suspended. Some people may not know that license suspensions don’t only happen as a result of an incident while driving, but could also occur as a legal consequence because of actions that occurred outside the vehicle. The thought of risking your driving privileges can seem overwhelming, so it is important to know in what circumstances this could happen. Bankrate’s insurance editorial team provided an overview explaining the most common reasons a driver could lose their license and the best way to get it reinstated.
What is license suspension?
A license suspension means driving privileges are temporarily unavailable to you for a defined period of time. Typically, to end a suspension period, you must participate in specific actions to have your license reinstated.
Some states issue a limited license suspension, where some driving privileges are available such as driving to and from employment or an emergency medical situation. For example, in the state of Georgia, not only are these two scenarios an option for limited suspension, but you are still permitted to drive to and from a driver’s safety class or court hearings with a limited driving permit.
Reasons for license suspension
Each state has its own laws surrounding license suspensions and what is grounds for one. In general, there are driving-related suspensions and finance-related ones.
Driving-related license suspensions
Driving-related license suspensions occur when you violate a law from behind the wheel and the state law mandates a license suspension as the penalty. Examples of this include:
- Driving without insurance: Almost all states require each driver to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance (and in some cases more) to drive legally. If you are caught driving without the minimum amount of insurance required by law, the result could be a license suspension.
- Driving under the influence: If a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol while driving or operating a vehicle, this is considered driving under the influence (DUI). It may also be referred to as driving while intoxicated (DWI) or operating while impaired (OWI). Each state has its own language and definitions surrounding this illegal behavior. Someone convicted of a DUI risks the chance of license suspension.
- Reckless driving: A driver is considered to be driving recklessly when there is a blatant disregard for safety and consequences while operating a vehicle. It does not necessarily mean an accident or property damage occurred, but it does mean the driving was considered dangerous. Excessive speeding, racing another vehicle and passing a vehicle with oncoming traffic are all examples of reckless driving.
Finance-related license suspensions
License suspensions related to driving may not be as surprising since there are several dangerous situations that can occur behind the wheel that warrant a cease to driving privileges. However, some drivers may be surprised to learn a license suspension can occur due to financial-related reasons.
- Missing child support payments: Some states will revoke your license if you are delinquent — or entirely skip — your child support obligations.
- Failure to pay traffic tickets: If you have been ordered to pay a ticket and you fail to pay the fine, it is possible to receive a license suspension as a result.This can include parking tickets and toll road violations.
- Failure to pay financial obligations from an accident: If you were determined to be at fault in an accident and fail to meet your financial obligations for property damage or injuries, your license could be suspended.
- You are the subject of a civil suit from an accident: If you were considered at fault in an accident and named in a civil suit as a result, some states will suspend your license.
- Failure to pay student loans: If you fail to pay back your student loans, you may be at risk of license suspension in three states: Iowa, Montana and Oklahoma.
Additional reasons for license suspension
Driving-related or financial-related suspensions are relatively straightforward, but this doesn’t mean the list is all-inclusive. There are several other instances where you could face a driver’s license suspension, such as:
- Illegal use of a license: If you share your license with a friend so they can purchase alcohol or enter a club while underage, the illegal use of the license can result in a suspension. Additionally, as your license is a primary source for identification, getting caught misidentifying yourself and using it under false pretenses of who you are could result in suspension.
- Excessive points on your license: For some states and Washington, D.C., which use a point system for traffic violations, accumulating too many points on your driving record in a set timeframe can result in a suspended license. For example, in Washington, D.C., accumulation of 10–11 points on a license will result in a 90-day suspension.
- Fleeing from a police officer: Attempting to flee or elude a police officer may be grounds for reckless driving in some states, but it could also lead to an automatic license suspension without a reckless driving conviction.
- Failure to appear in court: In some states, you could receive a license suspension if you are ordered to appear in court and fail to do so. This could be for any reason, even if the court appearance is unrelated to a driving incident.
- Missing school: Some states impose laws that support learners permit and driver’s license suspension for poor attendance to disincentivize high school students from skipping or dropping out of school.
How you can reinstate your license
License suspensions are generally temporary and for a defined period of time. Although each state has its own process for reinstatement, there may be a requirement for you to enroll in a driver’s safety course or some form of traffic school, or possibly take the road test again. You may also be required to file an SR-22 form, which is a form an insurance carrier files with the state on your behalf to prove you are meeting the state minimum requirements for insurance.
You will most likely have to pay a reinstatement fee in addition to possible defensive driving courses and filing an SR-22 form. These fees range in price, but are usually at least $100. The length of license suspensions can range from days to up to a year or longer. It all depends on the state laws and the reason behind the suspension.
South Carolina is one example of a state where you have to pay a $100 reinstatement fee and satisfy all the requirements to earn back your driving privileges. However, South Carolina has offered a Driver Suspension Eligibility Week over the years where eligible drivers have the chance to get their suspension period shortened or ended altogether. However, this option only applies if a driver lost their license due to specific circumstances, such as having excessive points before age 18 or operating an uninsured vehicle.
Frequently asked questions
Some states allow you to drive even if your license is suspended under certain circumstances. It is imperative that you understand what qualifies as a permitted circumstance in your state before you get behind the wheel without a license. Depending on your state, you may be allowed to drive to work, classes or medical appointments with proper permission.
While a license suspension is temporary and for a defined period of time, a license revocation is generally more permanent. You may be able to take steps to get a new license after your old one has been revoked, including requesting approval by your state department of motor vehicle (DMV) and paying fees, but you would not be able to reinstate the old one. If you drive illegally while your license is suspended or revoked, you could face criminal charges in most states.
No, a court appearance is usually not necessary. Many states allow you to apply for a license reinstatement online or by visiting a dedicated reinstatement office. This varies depending on your location, so you should confirm what steps are needed in your state.