California Hardship License: How to Get One After a DUI Arrest or Conviction

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In the state of California, an individual whose driver’s license has been suspended because of a driving under the influence (DUI) arrest or a DUI conviction may be eligible to apply for a hardship license from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). A hardship license is also called a restricted license. This type of restricted driver's license allows the individual to drive to a limited number of places, including DUI school, work or school, or a medical facility where the individual is receiving care. A hardship license allows an individual to retain limited driving privileges.

Who Is Eligible?

An individual may meet the eligibility requirements for a hardship license if all of the following are true:

  • This is their first offense and they have not committed another DUI or had a DUI charge reduced to reckless driving within 10 years, according to California Vehicle Code Section 13353.7
  • Their driving privileges are not suspended or revoked because of another wrongful act.
  • They took the chemical test when requested – a blood test or a breath test.
  • They are 21 years of age or older. 
  • They are applying for personal driving privileges, not commercial driving privileges. 

There are instances when all of the above facts are true, but the individual is still not eligible for a hardship license. One example is when the individual committed other offenses during the course of the first DUI offense, such as causing a serious injury.

When to Apply for Hardship License

There are different points during the time between an arrest and sentencing following a conviction when an individual can apply for a hardship license. This is why there are multiple answers to the question: When is the best time to apply for a hardship license? Typically, the period of concern begins when an individual arrested for DUI has their driver’s license confiscated by a law enforcement officer. The officer issues the individual an Order of Suspension and Temporary License.

The temporary license allows the individual to drive for 30 days from the date the order was issued. After that 30-day period, the individual’s driver’s license is suspended for four months, according to the California DMV. The exception to this suspension period is if the individual requests within 10 days of their arrest a DMV hearing to prevent a driver’s license suspension.

Requesting a DMV Hearing to Prevent Suspension

If the individual loses at the hearing, they can install an ignition interlock device (IID) on their vehicle before the 30-day driver’s license suspension goes into effect. An individual cannot request a hardship license at a DMV hearing.

If the individual wins the hearing, their license is not suspended and they do not need to apply for a restricted license. If an individual does not apply for a DMV hearing within 10 days, they lose their right to a hearing. If they win a DMV hearing they could still lose or enter a plea agreement to a DUI case in court.

Applying for a Hardship License

If an individual loses or enters a plea in a DUI case and is convicted of a DUI, they can apply for a hardship license. The process of applying for a hardship license involves completing an application with the DMV; payment of a $125 reissue fee for the license; providing proof of enrollment in a DUI school; and showing proof of financial responsibility with an SR-22 certificate.

A court may also require an individual convicted of a DUI to enroll in Alcoholics Anonymous and/or complete a substance abuse treatment program.

What Is SR-22 Insurance?

SR-22 insurance is not actually an insurance policy. It is a form called a certificate of financial responsibility. An individual’s auto insurance company provides this form to the California DMV to show that the individual has the necessary amount of auto insurance coverage that the state requires. In order to get the certificate, the individual must typically pay a fee to the insurer.

Reinstatement of a Regular Driver’s License

An individual who has been convicted of a DUI must complete their term of mandatory IID installation. The length of this period varies depending on the severity of the individual’s offense. The individual must also provide the DMV with proof of completion of DUI school and an SR-22 insurance certificate. The individual must maintain the SR-22 for three years.

The individual must also serve any jail time or prison time, pay the reinstatement fee to the California DMV and pay any applicable court fees.

Losing a Hardship License

An individual can lose a hardship license for driving to and from places other than work, school, a DUI treatment program and a medical facility where the individual is being treated. They can also lose their hardship license for failing to complete DUI school. The individual will then have to go through a more rigorous process to get a regular driver’s license. This typically involves requesting approval from the DMV, paying fines and going through the state’s licensing process.

Hardship License for Minors

A first offender under age 21 can get a special type of hardship license called a Critical Need Restriction driver’s license, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. In order to qualify for a Critical Need Restriction driver’s license, the driver must have completed a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) or a chemical test with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01 percent or more. The driver must also show that a specific critical need condition exists, such as the need to get to work, but there is no one to take them.

Further, they must show all other transportation is inadequate, such as there is no bus route that services the area, according to Vehicle Code Section 12513 and Vehicle Code Section 13353.8.

Driving With a Suspended License

Driving with a suspended license is a criminal offense, according to Vehicle Code Section 14601. A first conviction of this offense will be considered a misdemeanor. The penalties for first-time driving on a suspended license include jail time between five days and six months and a fine between $300 and $1,000. A conviction for driving on a suspended license will negatively affect an application for a hardship license.

An individual whose license has been suspended and who wants to get a hardship license should not risk driving on a suspended license, and consider public transportation or other arrangements.

What a DUI Attorney Can Do

A DUI defense attorney can represent an individual who has been arrested for a DUI or for driving on a suspended license in a DMV hearing and in criminal court. They can explain what paperwork and fees the client must pay to get a hardship license with a minimum amount of time and effort. The DUI defense attorney can also determine the appropriate time to apply for a hardship license. In addition, they can communicate with various parties, such as the auto insurer, on behalf of their client.