How to Get an Occupational License in Texas

By Teo Spengler - Updated October 19, 2018
Woman driving a car in reverse

You did something wrong, like drink and drive, and the state of Texas suspended your driving privileges. While you may regret the incident and believe the suspension to be justified, the impact of not being able to operate a vehicle can overwhelm you. In our mobile society, a vehicle isn't always a luxury. It can be an essential element of a busy life. If you can prove this to a magistrate or judge, you may qualify for an occupational license in Texas. An occupational driver's license allows you to drive legally while your regular license is suspended, but only in very specific circumstances.

What Is an Occupational License?

Sometimes, a driver's license is part of the glue holding your world or your family together. Maybe you are the sole wage earner in the family, and work is a long commute away. Maybe you care for a household of children that need to get to their schools and after-school activities. Or perhaps you are a student yourself and rely on your car to get you there. Losing your right to drive can bring everything to a screeching halt.

If this sounds like your situation, you may be able to get an occupational license in Texas. This can be a lifeline when your Texas driver's license status is suspended or revoked. The occupational driver's license is also termed an "essential need" license, and is only issued to individuals who have lost their driving privileges for certain offenses and can show that they need to drive to keep a job, get to school or keep a household going.

Who Can Get an Occupational License?

An occupational driver's license is a special type of restricted license that must be ordered by the courts. The Department of Public Safety can then issue an ODL to a Texas driver whose driving privileges have been suspended or revoked or who was denied a license for certain offenses.

If you lost your license or can't get a license for medical reasons, you are not eligible for an occupational license. In Texas, the court can suspend your driving license if you owe delinquent child support. If that is your case, an occupational license is not an option. However, if your license was taken away for alcohol or drug-related offenses, you may qualify if you can demonstrate that driving is essential to your daily occupations.

How Do You Show Essential Need?

An occupational license is an exception to the rule. Generally, if you lose your Texas driver's license eligibility, you can't drive. To qualify for this exception in Texas, you need to jump through a number of hoops. You cannot just go into the Department of Public Safety and pick one up. The DPS will issue you an occupational driver's license only if ordered to do so by a court.

Your first application must be to the court. You can apply for the right to get an occupational license to the office of the Justice of the Peace nearest your home, or you can go to the court in the place where the driving offense happened. Submit a petition to the court identifying the reasons you lost your driving privileges and defining your need. You can qualify for an occupational license only if you prove to the court that you require driving privileges to do your regular job, to get to and from work or school, or to do essential household duties.

You can get the form at a county law library or online. Contact your local court to make sure you have the correct papers. You usually have to attach a certified abstract of your driving record from the DPS. If you convince the Justice of the Peace or judge of the county or district court that you are eligible, you will get an order authorizing the DPS to issue the occupational license.

Once your petition is approved, take the order granting you an occupational license to the DPS. You'll need to submit a certified copy of the petition as well as a certified copy of the court order granting the occupational license. You will also need to pay a license fee and another fee for reinstatement of driving privileges.

Assuming all goes well, you will get your license in the mail in three to four weeks. What to do in the meantime? Texas law allows you to use a certified copy of the order for an ODL in place of a driver's license for 45 days after the order takes effect, a date that will be written on the order. If your ODL does not arrive from the DPS before the 45th day, stop driving. You will need to wait until you get the ODL in the mail, or return to court to get another order extending the deadline.

Can a Petition Be Rejected?

A petition for an occupational license can be rejected for many reasons. If you lost your license because of child support arrears or a physical or mental disability, the court won't grant your petition. Likewise, you will not get the order if the court is not convinced you have an essential need for a license. Occupational licenses are available only for personal driving, not commercial, so if you need a commercial license to meet your essential need, your petition won't be successful. In addition, there is a limit on how many ODLs you can get. If you have already received two ODLs in the past decade, you aren't eligible.

Further, if your offense includes a “hard suspension” waiting period because of a prior conviction, you must wait out the time before you get an ODL. While a court order approving you for an ODL generally takes effect when it is signed by the court, hard suspensions delay it. Various alcohol and drug-related driving offenses will result in a hard suspension. For example, a hard suspension occurs if your license was suspended because of your refusal to take a blood or breath test, or due to the fact that you failed the test. You'll have to wait 90 days after the suspension if this is the second alcohol or drug-related arrest within five years. That period doubles if, in the prior five years, your license was suspended for a conviction for driving while intoxicated, assault while intoxication or manslaughter. You'll have to wait a full year if you have had two or more convictions within the past five years.

Driving With an Occupational License in Texas

Driving with an occupational license is a privilege you won't want to lose, so take care to follow the rules. They are more restricted than the rules for driving with a regular license. Remember that you can't drive a commercial vehicle, and you must keep your insurance up to date. If it lapses, the DPS will revoke your occupational driver’s license.

You will need to document your right to drive. Keep your occupational license in the car when you are driving in case you are stopped. Also, keep a certified copy of the court order for ODL and proof of insurance with you. Driving without the court order is classified as a Class B misdemeanor in Texas.

Be sure you stick to the places and times you listed on your petition. The court order for the license allows you to drive only to those places at the times you provided. If your needs change, for example, your work hours change and alter your commute time, go back to court to get the order modified. Driving at times or to places other than those listed is also a Class B misdemeanor.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.

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