When you're convicted of a serious driving-related offense—like driving under the influence (DUI) or reckless driving—or multiple violations within a short period of time, the court or DMV will likely suspend or revoke your license. However, depending on the state you live in and what you lost your license for, you may be able to continue to drive with what's often called a "hardship license," "restricted license," or "limited driving privilege."
The purpose of a hardship license is to allow people to avoid losing their job and continue to meet other important obligations that require driving. So, to get a hardship license in the first place, motorists often have to prove to the court or DMV that they need to drive to:
A hardship license doesn't restore all driving privileges—it normally comes with numerous conditions that specify when and where the motorist can drive. Some states even limit drivers to certain routes when driving to and from certain permitted places. Nearly all hardship licenses will also specify what times the driver is able to drive. For example, a motorist with a hardship license might be limited to driving only during daylight hours.
Each state has different requirements for obtaining a hardship license. Generally, a driver's eligibility for a hardship license depends on why the driver's license was suspended, the motorist's driving record, and the type of license the driver had prior to the suspension. (Commercial drivers generally aren't eligible for hardship licenses.) It's also common for states to require DUI offenders to complete a "hard suspension" prior to obtaining a hardship license. During the hard suspension, the person can't drive at all.
Procedures for obtaining a restricted license also vary by state. Most states require drivers to submit an application through the DMV. The driver might also need to attend a hearing where a judge or DMV official determines whether the hardship license will be issued and what restrictions it will contain. And when a driver's license is suspended for a DUI, the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) might be a prerequisite for obtaining the hardship license.
Drivers who are caught violating the conditions of their hardship license will usually have their hardship license revoked. And in most states, there are no second chances—meaning the driver can't reapply for another hardship license after losing it.
The laws in every state are different. For help navigating your state's laws, get in contact with a knowledgeable local attorney. A qualified lawyer can explain whether you're eligible for a hardship license and how to go about applying.