Getting Limited Driving Privileges After License Suspension in North Carolina

When your license gets suspended for a DWI or another traffic violation, it’s often possible to obtain a “hardship” (or “restricted”) license for driving under limited circumstances.

In North Carolina, when you’re convicted of a DWI (driving while impaired) or certain other driving offenses, the court or the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will suspend your license. Suspensions typically range from six months to several years, depending on the crime charged and the sentence imposed. However, most drivers whose licenses are suspended can get a “limited driving privilege” (also called a “restricted” or “hardship” license) for driving to and from certain places during specific times.

Purpose and Conditions of a Limited Driving Privilege

The court or DMV can issue a limited driving privilege to a driver whose license has been suspended when necessary for the driver’s:

  • employment

  • household maintenance

  • education

  • attendance at court-ordered treatment or assessments

  • completion of community service ordered as a condition of probation

  • emergency medical care, and

  • religious worship.

A restricted license doesn’t restore all driving privileges—it comes with numerous conditions that specify when and where the motorist can drive.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 20-179.3 (2017).)

How to Obtain a Hardship License

Hearing. To obtain a limited driving privilege in North Carolina, the driver must first apply and request a hearing. The hearing will be handled by the judge who presided over the impaired driving case, the senior resident superior court judge, or the chief district court judge. The prosecutor’s office is notified of the hearing and will have an opportunity to present arguments as to why the privilege shouldn’t be granted. But it’s ultimately up to judge to determine whether to issue the limited driving privilege.

Requirements. Motorists who are convicted of a DWI in North Carolina are generally eligible for a limited driving privilege if:

  • they held a valid driver’s license at the time of the DWI offense

  • they have no prior DWI convictions that occurred within seven years of the current DWI offense

  • a level III, IV, or V punishment was imposed for their DWI conviction

  • since being convicted, they have not been charged with or convicted of another DWI, and

  • they have obtained and filed with the court a substance abuse assessment.

However, DWI offenders who are deemed “high-risk” drivers—meaning they had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15% or more—are subject to additional requirements. In these cases, the limited driving privilege won’t take effect until at least 45 days after the initial conviction, and the driver must install an ignition interlock device on his or her vehicle.

Violating the Restrictions of a Hardship License

A person who violates any of the restrictions of a hardship license can be charged with “driving while license revoked for impaired driving,” a class 1 misdemeanor. A conviction is punishable by a fine and up to 120 days in jail.

Getting Legal Help

The consequences of having your license suspended can create considerable practical difficulties. If your license has been suspended, you should talk to an experienced local attorney right away. A qualified lawyer can explain whether you are eligible for a hardship license and how to go about applying.

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