If you think driving without a valid license is rare, think again. Estimates from a AAA Foundation-sponsored study showed that roughly 10% of drivers don’t have a valid license. The majority of the people in that group have had their licenses suspended and technically shouldn’t be driving. It’s easy to forget a motor vehicle is a piece of heavy machinery that can do serious damage. When a person fails to prove they’re a safe driver that can obey the rules of the road the state DMV or local court will issue a license suspension.
Having a suspended license means you can’t drive your car legally, making it impossible to drive to work or run everyday errands and forcing you to find alternative transportation. Getting your driver’s license reinstated as quickly as possible will depend on your state and the reason for your suspension. Here’s what you need to know.
Why a License May Be Suspended
Your license can be suspended for a number of reasons, including driving under the influence (DUI) and reckless driving. However, it’s also possible for it to be suspended for other causes. In all 50 states, states and courts can take away driving privileges for non-driving reasons. Depending on the jurisdiction, those may include:
- Not paying child support
- Failure to maintain proper insurance
- Failure to appear in court to satisfy a summons for a moving violation
- Convictions for drug-related offenses that occurred while not driving
- Failure to pay motor vehicle fines1
Nationwide, at least 11 million people have their licenses suspended each year because they cannot pay fines or fees, not for safety infractions.2
License Suspensions Due to Medical Issues
In some cases, your license can be suspended if you are diagnosed with a medical issue such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, or certain eye diseases.
Your doctor, family members, or support agencies can report your condition to the state department of motor vehicles (DMV); if that happens, then a medical advisory board will typically review your health information to determine whether the report is valid. If the board finds that your condition presents a risk to public safety if you drive, then it may suspend or completely revoke your license.3
If you receive treatment for your health issues and they’re now well-controlled, then you can submit updated documentation to the medical advisory board for review and reconsideration. In some cases, your license will be reinstated without penalty.4
How to Find Out If Your License Is Suspended
Depending on the circumstances, you may not be aware that your license has been suspended. If you’re concerned that it might have been, here’s how to find out.
1. Watch Your Mail
In most cases, the state DMV or department of transportation will send a suspension notice to you through the mail. So make sure that you open any pieces of mail in your name and that the DMV has your current address.
2. Check With the DMV
Some states have online databases that you can use to check the status of your license. By entering your driver’s license number, Social Security number, or other information, you can find out if your license is suspended and if your insurance is current. You can also call your local DMV to inquire about your driver’s license status.
3. Contact Your Insurance Company
Contact your insurance company or agent to find out if your insurance policy expired, or if they have been notified that your license was suspended for any other reason.
What You Need to Do to Get Your License Reinstated
If your license has been suspended, it is possible to get it reinstated. Depending on where you live and the reason for the suspension, you may have to complete one or more of the following steps:
1. Take an Approved Class
If your license was suspended due to DUI, reckless driving, or accumulation of points, then you will likely need to take an approved class to qualify for reinstatement. Those include:
- DUI programs. Approved DUI programs are typically run by nonprofit organizations that provide drug and alcohol education to DUI offenders. The length of the course depends on whether it’s your first offense or you have multiple offenses, but most take several hours. Besides successfully completing the course, you will have to pay a fee to take it. For example, Florida drivers who take a DUI program must pay a $275 registration fee if it’s their first offense.5
- Defensive driving programs. Your state may require you to complete a defensive driving course or driver improvement class. During these classes, you’ll relearn driving basics and proper safety measures, and an instructor may assess your driving skills. Depending on your state, you may be able to take some classes online. For instance, in certain situations, drivers in Arizona can attend compulsory Traffic Survival School in an online setting rather than in person.6
2. Pay the Fees
When you apply for your license to be reinstated, you will typically have to pay fees. For example, the reinstatement fee in South Dakota ranges from $50 to $200.7 In Michigan, it can be as low as $25 or as high as $125.8 The cost is usually based on what caused your license to be suspended and whether it was your first offense. Across the United States, the cost can vary anywhere from $5 (in Wyoming) to $1,200 (in Massachusetts).910
3. Get SR-22/FR-44 Insurance
If your license was previously suspended, then your state might require you to get an SR-22 form, also known as a certificate of financial responsibility, before you can legally drive.11 In Florida and Virginia, the form is known as FR-44.12
The SR-22 shows that you meet the state’s auto liability requirements. It’s an additional document that you need to carry in addition to your proof of insurance.
Not all insurers offer SR-22 or FR-44 forms. If your current auto insurance company doesn’t issue them, then you’ll have to purchase one from another insurer.
Be Patient While Waiting for Reinstatement
The penalties for driving with a suspended or revoked license can be severe. If you are stopped by police and found to have a suspended license, then you may have to pay hefty fines and could even face jail time.13