To those of us who consider driving a spiritual experience, the idea of losing the privilege of driving is unthinkable. So, to help you retain your legal ability to operate a motor vehicle, I will now list for you the most common ways people lose their driving privileges. Don't do these things.
(Full Disclosure: These are all from Michigan but many of these will be similar to the laws in other states.)
First, there is one distinction you need to know: Your license can be suspended or it can be revoked. A suspension is when the state gives you a start and end date for your inability to drive. When it ends, you can usually regain your license and start driving again. Consider it a timeout, possibly with a few hoops to jump through at the end. A revocation means you lose your license. You can reapply to get your driving privileges back but the state can - and often will - say No, so this is worse than a suspension. And in Michigan, you must wait a year before even asking.
The state awards you points for certain kinds of moving violations. Points can even be given to you for violations on an ATV or snowmobile. Your license will be in jeopardy if you get 12 points within a two year period. Most people never get that many but I've met people who collected them for a hobby. Reckless driving, fleeing or eluding a police officer, and unlawful blood alcohol over .08 are each worth 6 points. Drag racing, operating while visibly impaired, or driving 16 MPH over the speed limit? Those are 4-pointers. Careless driving, 11 to 15 over, or disobeying a Stop sign are 3 each. The run-of-the-mill tickets, 10 over, open alcohol and so on are 2 points each. I've seen drivers who racked up a few in one fun night. Drag racing while drunk? Running Stop signs while fleeing or eluding? Ah, Good times.
If you get 12 points in 2 years you will be invited by the state to a party they call "Driver Assessment Reexamination." According to the Secretary of State, "At the conclusion of your driver assessment reexamination, your license may be unaffected, or it may be restricted, suspended or revoked depending on a number of factors." A restricted license will, if they let you have one, allow you to drive to work and back, to school and back or other necessary places you might need to drive to.
Depending on what led to your 12-point collection, you might be walking for a while. I've been told that a bunch of 2-point tickets scattered over two years might not be as bad as a couple of big tickets that made headlines. Some people liken the DAR to being brought in for a tax audit, or maybe a surprise rectal exam. Several outcomes are possible, but we all know it won't end well.
You can also lose your license by drinking and driving - or driving under the influence of any drugs which impair your ability to drive. Operating While Visibly Impaired, Operating While Intoxicated, or "Super Drunk" at .17 or above, are all just gradations on how much alcohol you have in your system. Regardless, a conviction on these will lead to a 6-month suspension at a minimum, and a year for the Super Drunk. You can apply for a restricted license after 30 days, and 45 days respectively. Oh, you're underage? Blow a breathalyzer of .02 or better and your license will be restricted for 30 days.
And while we are on the topic, refuse to blow the breathalyzer at the side of the road and that - by itself - will get you a one-year license suspension.
Any drug conviction – possession, manufacturing, distribution – whether or not it involved driving, will result in your license being suspended. Is this your first such conviction? Congratulations. Your license will only be suspended for six months. And you can apply for a restricted license to be issued after 30 days. But for those first 30 days, you are not going to be legally driving yourself anywhere. If this is not your first drug conviction in the last seven years, you'll get a one-year suspension and a restricted license can only be given after a 60-day period. Seriously: Seek help.
Your license may be suspended if you fail to appear in court when you are asked to respond to a traffic citation, or if you fail to comply with a court judgment. Your license can even be suspended for failing to take care of parking violations. Three in one jurisdiction or two handicap-parking violations and you might get suspended. Who knew you had to pay those?
Revocations are usually for the more serious things. More serious alcohol offenses, vehicular manslaughter and so. The types of charges where your license revocation might become moot as you spend years sitting in prison. You won't need a driver's license in prison.
I mentioned driving yourself "legally." This is because some people decide they really need to drive somewhere and the courts shouldn't have tried to tell them otherwise. So, they drive with a suspended/revoked license and they get pulled over. We can discuss how bad a driver you must be if you get yourself pulled over this often but it happens all the time. I could not even guess how many times I have seen drivers in court charged with driving on a suspended or revoked license. "Uhhhhhhh. I had to go to the store and get my medicine." Imagine that in the voice of Jimbo Jones. I have seen a person walk out of court after pleading guilty to driving while suspended, get behind the wheel of her car and drive away. In the same car she drove herself to court in with her suspended license. While the officer who had just testified against her watched. He shook his head, followed her out and the lights went back on.
Your license can also be revoked if the state determines you do not possess the physical, mental or "other qualifications necessary" to drive safely. I have to imagine this law is archaic. We have all seen people on the roads who should not be driving. Do they ever enforce this one? I doubt it.
Be aware that most states share this information on a central registry so if you lose your license in one state, you cannot so easily go to the next state over and get a driver's license. And then there's Colorado. Colorado, they tell me, invites those with suspended or revoked licenses with open arms. You just have to move there and meet a few requirements. Clearly, a topic for another day.
In short, if you have a license suspension based on points, you may find yourself riding out the period so that some of them simply expire. If you are suspended because of something you failed to do – like appear in court or pay a fine – you can remedy that by going to court and taking care of the original problem.
Brace yourself for the fines, court costs, fees, and other administrative costs which somehow grow exponentially when the system has you in its grasp. And if your license is revoked for something more severe, there might not be an easy way out. Consult with a local attorney. This area is so rife with difficulty and nuance, it has created a whole practice field for attorneys who will do their darnedest to get your license back. If they can.
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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 23 years, and has defended hundreds of traffic citations in dozens of courts. He also handles Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler's Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Coolest Creation.
This website may supply general information about the law but it is for informational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not meant to constitute legal advice, so the good news is we're not billing you by the hour for reading this. The bad news is that you shouldn't act upon any of the information without consulting a qualified professional attorney who will, probably, bill you by the hour.