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How Does a Driver's License Get Revoked?

The types of conduct that can cause a driver to have his or her driver's license revoked are similar to offenses that can result in suspension, only more serious (and in many cases, after repeated violations following a suspension). And since driving on public streets and highways is considered a privilege and not a right, states generally have a lot of leeway with regard to the revocation of drivers' licenses for both driving- and non-driving-related offenses.

If your driver's license is revoked, you will have to wait a specified period of time before you may apply for a new one. But even then, your state may deny your application for a number of reasons, including the failure to pass required tests. This article offers a general answer to the question of "How can your license be revoked?" However, you should check with your state's department of motor vehicles for specifics.

Driving-Related Grounds for License Revocation

All 50 states (and the District of Columbia) allow for the revocation of drivers' licenses for motorists convicted of multiple DUIs or who have accumulated a certain number of traffic ticket points or "countable" violations. Most states revoke the licenses of motorists convicted of driving with a suspended driver's license.

The following violations can get your driver's license revoked, but typically only after multiple convictions or for particularly serious offenses:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs
  • Reckless driving
  • Leaving the scene of an injury accident
  • Failure to answer a traffic summons
  • Drag racing / speed contests

The point system varies from state to state, but most states allow a certain number of points within a given time period before a motorist's license is suspended or revoked. For example, a California driver may be considered a "negligent operator" and thus subject to suspension if he or she accumulates four points in 12 months, six points in 24 months, or eight points in 36 months. States generally consider revocation on a case-by-case basis, while judges have discretion to suspend or revoke one's license irrespective of the point total.

Non-Driving Offenses That Can Get Your Driver's License Revoked

Again, states generally do not have automatic triggers for revocation and judges have discretion over whether a motorist's driving- or non-driving violations are serious enough to warrant revocation.

A failure to comply with a child support order is by far the most common non-driving reason why someone may have their driver's license revoked, adhered to by all but four states (New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, and South Dakota). Most states also suspend, and in some cases revoke, the licenses of motorists who fail to maintain the proper automobile insurance coverage or a valid driver's license.

Additional non-driving offenses that may result in the revocation of your driver's license include the following:

  • Conviction for a non-DUI drug-related offense
  • Failure to respond to a court summons
  • Non-DUI alcohol or drug offenses by minors
  • Use of altered or fictitious license plates

Administrative License Suspension Laws: Revocation Without a Hearing

In the majority of states, if you're arrested for driving under the influence, you probably won't be getting behind the wheel for a while. That's because of Administrative License Suspension (ALS) laws. While ALS laws vary state by state, they typically require that a license be confiscated and automatically suspended without a hearing in a couple of situations.

  1. Implied Consent LawsUnder the laws of most states, by driving in the state you give "implied consent" to a breath, blood, or urine test if suspected of DUI. Refusing to submit to the test after a proper traffic stop will typically result in an automatic license suspension, regardless of whether you were actually impaired at the time.
  2. DUI ArrestsIf chemical testing (blood, breath, etc.) indicates that you have a blood-alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08 percent or higher, or have certain drugs in your system, your license will automatically be suspended under the laws of most states.


Since ALS laws are state-specific, the length of the suspension period can be anywhere from a few days to several years depending on the state's law. As of 2012, there are only nine states that don't have ALS laws: Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Tennessee.

Appealing an ALS

Most states allow drivers to appeal an Administrative License Suspension. Typically, the driver must file an appeal within a few days of the arrest or the issuance of a citation. Once an appeal has been filed, there's a hearing to determine whether driving privileges should be restored.

However, even if your license is reinstated, it could be a fleeting victory. If you're later convicted of your DUI charge, your license will probably once against be suspended. But, if your license ends up getting suspended, many states allow qualified individuals to apply for various types of conditional or limited driving privileges, such as for getting to and from work during daytime hours. These decisions are usually made on a case-by-case basis.

Was Your Driver's Licensed Revoked? Ask an Attorney About Your Options

If your driver's license has been revoked, you may have questions about whether you can drive to work or get other concessions in order to get on with your life. Consider speaking with a traffic ticket lawyer in your area if you have any additional questions or need help with a driver's license revocation. 

See FindLaw's Driver's License & Vehicle Info subsection for related articles and resources.

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