Driving on public streets and highways is a privilege, not a right. The government can take away your permission to drive, but they usually only do so temporarily.
Many different actions can lead to a driver's license suspension. Some of these actions are not even related to driving.
This article covers the various scenarios that may result in your driver's license getting suspended. The reasons vary from state to state. Check your state's department of motor vehicles (DMV) for specific driver's license laws and regulations.
Driving-Related Grounds for License Suspension
Traffic violations that can result in a driver's license suspension include the following:
- Reckless driving
- Careless driving
- Leaving the scene of an accident
- Drag racing/speed contests
- Assault of another motorist, passenger, pedestrian, or bicyclist while on the highway ("road rage")
- Excessive traffic ticket points on your driving record
Traffic point systems and suspension rules vary from state to state. For example, California converts traffic offenses to negligent operator points. A driver can face license suspension if they get four negligent operator points in 12 months.
DUIs and Refusing a Breath Test
Drunk driving is a common reason for automatic license suspension. All 50 states and the District of Columbia suspend the licenses of drivers convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) who have accumulated a certain number of traffic violations.
Each state also has implied consent laws. These laws mean that if you own a driver's license, you must take a police officer's breath or chemical test for alcohol use. Refusing to take the officer's test usually results in an automatic suspension.
Non-Driving Violations that Risk Suspension
States also suspend driver's licenses for many non-driving actions. This option gives a state more leverage when drivers don't follow an order or driving law.
For example, failure to pay child support can result in license suspension, depending on the state's criteria. Most states also suspend licenses due to a lack of automobile insurance coverage. These rules incentivize drivers to pay child support and carry the minimum insurance.
Other non-driving offenses that could cause driver's license suspension include:
- Failure to appear in court for a moving violation or parking ticket
- Failure to pay a DMV fine, surcharge, or fee
- Conviction for a drug-related offense (other than a DUI)
- Altered or unlawful use of driver's license
- Use of altered or fake license plates
- Non-DUI alcohol/drug offenses by minors
- Truancy and juvenile delinquency
Some of these offenses risk public safety, so states don't want the offender on the road. For example, Texas motorists with a drug-related conviction automatically lose their driver's license for 180 days.
Notice of a Suspended Driver's License
Traffic courts usually send you a courtesy notice before the actual suspension date of your driver's license.
Each state has its own way of contacting drivers, but suspension notices usually contain the following information:
- Your name, address, driver's license number, and other personally identifying data
- Effective date when suspension starts
- Termination date when suspension ends
- Official statement of a suspended license
- Which offenses led to this penalty, including details like the date and case number
Sometimes, the notice also explains your options for avoiding suspension, such as paying an outstanding fine or overdue child support. Pay careful attention to the court's instructions if you want to continue driving as usual.
When the suspension begins, the Secretary of State's office will notify you that your driving privileges are no longer valid in the state.
Driving With a Suspended License
Losing your license is challenging. Suspension isn't always preventable, but it is temporary.
Once the suspension begins, do not drive. Most states pursue license revocation if you drive with a suspended license. A revoked license means you permanently lose your driving privileges. You might also face higher penalties like jail time.
Regaining Your Driving Privileges
If you have to drive during a license suspension, you may ask for a restricted license for work or childcare. You can only drive for the purposes that the court allows.
After waiting for the suspension period to end, you can apply to get your license back. A new license often requires you to pay a reinstatement fee. In some circumstances, you might also need to complete a driver's education course or install an ignition interlock device.
Get Legal Help for License Suspension
If you have any questions about traffic tickets or driver's license penalties, contact a traffic law attorney in your area.
For more information and resources related to this topic, you can visit FindLaw's Traffic Laws section.