What Is a Hardship License?

Man driving a car on the road
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Sometimes people make mistakes when they’re behind the wheel of a car. Many states are at least somewhat forgiving of this -- at least, their laws won’t necessarily leave you high and dry if your license is suspended for a period of time. These states issue special hardship licenses if you must drive for certain reasons, such as to get to work. The rules can vary by state, so check a local government website to find out exactly what options your state provides if you lose your driver’s license.

A Temporary License

A hardship license allows you to drive while your regular license is suspended. You can lose your license for a number of reasons, but the most common is driving under the influence of alcohol. Licenses also may be suspended in some states for driving without insurance or for accumulating too many points for moving violations. Many states will suspend a parent’s driver’s license if he doesn’t pay court-ordered child support, and others will do it if you’ve been ordered to pay restitution in another legal matter but failed to do so.

Getting a hardship license doesn’t make the underlying charge go away -- it still appears on your record and you must meet any other conditions of your sentence. Not all states offer hardship licenses, and among those that do, the licenses usually are specifically marked. If you’re pulled over, the police officer knows right away that you’re driving under special privilege.

Restrictions on Driving

A hardship license doesn’t allow you to go wherever you want, whenever you choose. It’s issued for specific and approved purposes. In addition to driving to and from work, states often issue hardship licenses so a suspended driver can attend school or get medical care. Some states allow you to drive your child to daycare or do necessary errands. The hours you can drive may be limited. For example, Massachusetts limits hardship driving privileges to 12 hours a day. If your license is suspended due to a DUI, some states, like Kentucky, require that you install an ignition interlock device so you can’t possibly operate the vehicle if you’ve been drinking -- it won’t start unless you blow into the device to prove you’re sober. In New York, you can’t drive a commercial vehicle on a hardship license.

Hardship Licenses for Minors

Some states offer special licenses to minors who haven’t yet reached the legal age to drive, which some refer to as hardship licenses. For example, Tennessee offers hardship licenses to teens as young as 14 so they can get to school if there’s no other reasonable way for them to get there, or to work if their incomes are necessary to help support their families. Just as with adult hardship licenses, states usually impose limitations. Passengers may be limited to family members and the distance the young driver can travel maybe be a certain number of miles on an approved route. The license usually is good until the teen reaches the normal driving age in his state. He must pass a driver’s education course, as well as the usual testing associated with getting a learner’s permit at an older age.

Applying for a Hardship License

The burden of proof to establish hardship usually is on the driver. You must show the court or a state agency that not being able to drive would negatively affect you or your family. Some states require you to attend counseling before appearing at a hearing to plead your case. Most states require proof of auto insurance coverage. Depending on the reason you lost your license, there may be a waiting period before you can apply -- you’ll have to serve at least some portion of the suspension. You can check with legal aid in your area to find out the exact application process and if you’re eligible.

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