Most people don't think about losing their driving privileges while they're speeding or rolling through a stop sign. But tally up too many moving violations -- or get charged with a DUI or DWI -- and you might end up having your driver license suspended for a few months, even years. Below you'll find a discussion of common reasons for license suspension, the procedure your state might follow to take your license away, and what you can do to fight license suspension.
If you get one or two routine moving violations -- for things like running a stop light or speeding -- your driver license won't be suspended. Usually, your license isn't at risk unless you've been convicted of at least three moving violations in the past three to five years -- specifics depend on the state where you live (parking tickets don't count). An exception sometimes exists for young drivers. In some states, just one moving violation can result in license suspension for drivers under the age of 18.
Most states handle driver license suspensions using a system that assigns a certain number of points for each type of moving violation. If you get too many points in a certain period of time, you are at risk of losing your license. In some states, motor vehicle accidents can result in points as well, even if no fault determination was ever made by a court or law enforcement agency.
Most states' moving violation point systems take one of two forms:
Usually, if you face license suspension because of multiple moving violations, you're entitled to a hearing with a motor vehicle bureau officer before your license is taken away. Since the stakes are high, it makes sense to prepare for and attend the hearing. Think of arguments you can make and facts to present that might persuade the hearing officer to rule in your favor. If appropriate, take the following angles in making your argument:
In some cases, you might want to consult with a lawyer before the hearing or even hire one to represent you.
The best way to keep your license is to keep track of the points you've earned, avoid getting points by driving safely and carefully, fight a ticket when possible, and attend traffic school to wipe points off your record.
If you believe the ticketing officer made a mistake, take steps to fight the ticket in court. (For tips on fighting your ticket, see Nolo's article Five Strategies for Fighting a Traffic Ticket.) Although it may be easier to pay up, remember that the violation will remain on your record for a certain number of years.
Also, in most states, you can prevent a moving violation from appearing as a point on your record by attending traffic school. In some states you can attend traffic school once a year, while in others you must wait 18 to 24 months before you can eliminate a new ticket with a new trip to traffic school. In some states, you aren't eligible for traffic school if you're ticketed for exceeding the speed limit by more than 15 or 20 miles per hour.
If you are eligible for traffic school, take advantage of it. It's a 100% guarantee that your violation won't appear on your record. Most courses are 6 to 8 hours and some states allow you to attend traffic school online, so you can fulfill your obligation at home or in your local library. (For more information on traffic school and different types of penalties for traffic tickets, see Nolo's article Traffic Fines, License Suspensions, and Traffic School.)
If you are charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, also called DUI, DWI, or drunk driving, the procedure that leads up to license suspension is very different. In most states, the police officer suspends your license even before you have been convicted of the offense. Here's how the process works:
After the arrest, the police officer takes your driver's license and issues you a temporary license that expires at a future date. On that date, your license will be suspended -- unless you prevail at a DMV hearing. It is your responsibility to request a hearing. If you don't, the DMV will automatically suspend your license. This occurs even if the charges are later reduced or dismissed in court.
At the DMV hearing, you have the opportunity to argue against suspension. If you lose, the hearing officer will suspend your license for a period of time. The amount of time depends on a number of factors, including:
Charges of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can have serious consequences. Just as you are wise to consider hiring an attorney to represent you in the criminal hearing for DUI/DWI, you may want to consult with an attorney regarding your license suspension hearing as well. (To learn more about driving under the influence, see Nolo's Drunk Driving, DUI, and DWI FAQ.)
Most states have an "implied consent" law that requires any driver arrested for driving under the influence to give a blood, breath, or urine sample. These laws also require a driver to provide multiple breath samples, if requested by the police. (Because the breath gas analysis can be inaccurate, police officers sometimes want more than one sample.) Refusal to provide any requested sample results in an automatic suspension of your driver's license for three to twelve months, depending on where you live. Your license remains suspended for this time period, even if you are not convicted of the underlying DUI-related charge.
For everything you need to know about challenging a traffic ticket or license suspension -- from understanding the relevant laws to presenting your case in court -- get Nolo's Beat Your Ticket: Go to Court & Win, by David W. Brown.
You can also talk with an attorney about your options if you're thinking about fighting a traffic ticket or a driver license suspension. Go to Nolo's Lawyer Directory for a list of traffic offense attorneys in your area (click the "Types of Cases" and "Work History" tabs to find out about the lawyer's experience with cases like yours).