How Do I Get a “Hardship” or “Restricted” License to Drive During a Suspension or Revocation?

What a hardship license is, when it is available, and how to obtain one.

State legislatures certainly want drivers to obey traffic laws. And the primary means states have for getting drivers to follow the rules is by imposing consequences for traffic violations. License suspension or revocation is one of the more serious consequences a driver might face for violating traffic laws. Generally, states will take away a person's driving privileges only for more serious traffic offenses or where a driver gets multiple tickets within a short period of time.

For many people, the loss of driving privileges can create extreme hardship. Lots of people—especially in rural areas and places where there isn't good public transportation—rely on their own vehicle transportation to get to doctor appointments, school, work, and the like.

The consequences state laws impose for traffic violations are aimed at keeping roadways safe. But at the same time, state legislatures don't want people to lose their jobs, miss medical appointments, or be unable to take kids to school because of license suspension. To mitigate these undesirable consequences of license loss, all states have some form of hardship license (also called a "restricted" or "Cinderella" license or permit) that allows motorists to have limited driving privileges during a license suspension period.

This article outlines what restricted privileges permit, when they are available, and how they can be lost.

Who Can Get a Hardship or Restricted License?

Hardship licenses are available only to drivers who held a valid license but are currently suspended. Eligibility rules vary quite a bit by state. However, those who might be eligible for a hardship license include drivers who had their privileges suspended for:

A driver's eligibility for a restricted license often depends on the specific circumstances leading to license suspension or revocation. These circumstances can also affect the terms and conditions of the hardship license (see below).

Who Isn't Eligible for a Hardship or Restricted Permit?

As previously noted, only drivers who had a valid license prior to suspension or revocation can be eligible for hardship licenses. However, a number of other circumstances can also render a driver ineligible for restricted driving privileges. Depending on what state you live in, these circumstances might include:

  • Being a commercial driver. Commercial driver's license (CDL) holders generally aren't eligible for any hardship privileges (at least not to drive a commercial vehicle). Most CDL suspensions are governed by federal laws which prohibit masking or circumventing the mandatory suspension rules.
  • Serious driving-related offenses. State laws generally specify that drivers who are suspended for certain more serious driving-related offenses aren't eligible for restricted privileges. For example, some states don't allow hardship licenses for anyone convicted of vehicular manslaughter or causing an accident without insurance.
  • Repeat DUI offenders. Many states allow drivers who are suspended for driving under the influence to apply for a restricted license. However, lots of states limit eligibility to only certain DUI offenders. For example, a hardship license might not be available in cases involving repeat offenses or aggravating factors such as an extremely high blood alcohol concentration.
  • Drivers who refuse alcohol testing. Implied consent laws generally require all motorists who are lawfully arrested for a DUI to submit to alcohol testing (usually, of the breath, blood, or urine) when requested to do so by an officer. In some states, drivers who refuse testing in violation of implied consent laws are ineligible for hardship licenses.

But, again, hardship eligibility rules vary by state. So the best way to find out whether you're eligible is to check with an attorney in your area.

How Do You Get a Restricted Driver's License?

Depending on your state's laws, the hardship designation might be escribed on your driver's license or on a temporary paper permit that you must carry with you.

Applying for Privileges. Each state has different procedures for applying for a hardship license. Oftentimes, the procedures and requirements depend on the reason for suspension and the source of the hardship license. Generally, a driver suspended due to a DMV (department of vehicles) letter will need to contact the DMV regarding restricted privileges. A driver who is suspended by a judge in criminal sentencing can typically petition the court for some form of hardship license. Judges tend to have more flexibility in granting hardship licenses but are also generally authorized to impose various restrictions on the limited driving privileges that the license grants.

Interstate travel. All fifty states are parties to an agreement that says driving privileges in one state will be respected in other states. However, this agreement doesn't necessarily apply to hardship privileges. For example, a DUI hardship license might not be valid in a state that mandates a minimum one-year license revocation for DUI convictions. As the reciprocity status of hardship privileges differs from state to state, it is best to either consult with a local attorney or to avoid interstate travel while driving with a hardship license.

What Are Common Condition and Restrictions of a Hardship License?

The restrictions of hardship licenses typically vary depending on the reason for the suspension and the individual circumstances of the driver. However, these restrictions often include:

  • Time and place limitations. Oftentimes, restricted driving privileges are limited to certain times and travel to and from specific places. For instance, a hardship license might allow driving only between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. In other cases, a driver might be permitted to drive only to and from work and school.
  • Ignition interlock devices. In DUI cases, it's pretty common for ignition interlock devices (IID) to be a requirement for obtaining a hardship license. These devices (which are basically breathalyzers) require drivers to provide an alcohol-free breath before the vehicle will start. Drivers are normally responsible for the costs of installing and maintaining IIDs.
  • Participation in educational programs. In some cases, a driver might need to be participating in a program to be eligible for a restricted license. For example, DUI offenders are sometimes required to be enrolled and participating in a substance abuse treatment program as a condition of having a hardship license.
  • Hard suspension periods. DUI offenders normally have to complete a mandatory suspension period before they can apply for restricted privileges. During this "hard suspension" period, the driver won't be able to operate a vehicle at all. Hard suspension periods usually range from 30 days to a year, depending on the circumstances of the case.

As with all aspects of hardship licenses, the restrictions and conditions will vary by state and specific circumstances of the case. If you have questions about your situation, it's a good idea to consult with a local attorney.

What Happens If You Violate the Restrictions or Conditions of a Hardship License?

As previously explained, hardship licenses often come with certain restrictions and conditions. Failing to meet these requirements will usually result in the revocation of the hardship license or criminal charges.

Criminal charges. For most hardship licenses, violating the restrictions will be a misdemeanor criminal offense. In other words, violating hardship license restrictions can lead to new criminal charges that often carry something like up to six months in jail and up to $500 in fines.

Revocation. Beyond the criminal charges, driving in violation of the hardship restrictions will generally result in the loss of driving privileges. For hardship licenses issued by a judge, the judge has the authority to revoke those privileges after being informed of any driving violation. A DMV-issued hardship license can normally be revoked by any slight. If the DMV receives notice that the offender has been convicted of another violation, has failed to maintain insurance, or has removed an IID, the driver is likely to lose hardship privileges.

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