Most people are dependent on their vehicles for transportation. So at the very least a suspended license—whether it be for a DUI conviction or accumulating too many traffic violation points—is a serious inconvenience. And for many drivers, not having a license could mean losing a job, flunking out of a university, or not being able to transport kids to and from school.
But don't sign up for a bus pass quite yet. You might be eligible for a "restricted" or "hardship" license. A restricted license allows a motorist to drive to and from certain places while on an otherwise suspended license.
A restricted license doesn't restore all driving privileges. Restricted licenses come with conditions that specify when and/or where the motorist can drive.
State laws vary, but generally, a restricted license is for driving only to and from places like work, school, drug or alcohol treatment programs, and medical appointments. Many states also allow parents with restricted licenses to transport children to and from school and other necessary appointments.
Some states additionally put time limitations on restricted licenses. For instance, a motorist might be permitted to driving only during daylight hours or between certain times specified by the court or Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Every state is different. But generally, a driver's eligibility for a restricted license depends on the reason for the suspension, the motorist's driving record, and the driver's license type. For example, some states prohibit restricted licenses for drivers who had their license suspended for serious driving offenses like vehicular homicide, hit-and-run, or reckless driving. Other states permit a restricted license for a first but not a subsequent suspension. And typically a hardship license won't restore commercial driving privileges.
In some situations, a driver is eligible for a hardship license only after completing a "hard-suspension" period. During the hard-suspension period—which is often 30 days—the person can't drive at all. Hard-suspension periods are common for DUI-related suspensions and revocations.
Procedures for getting a restricted license vary by state. The application process is usually through the DMV. But the issuance of a restricted license isn't always automatic: It's usually up to the driver to prove eligibility and that not having a license would be a substantial hardship. This might involve showing a valid reason—such as work, school, or medical necessity—and convincing the DMV that public transportation isn't a viable option.
It's also common for states to charge a restricted license fee. And for suspensions related to driving under the influence, the motorist might have to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in the vehicle prior to obtaining a hardship license.
The laws are different in every state. 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.