The DMV giveth; the DMV taketh away. Yes, that very same Department of Motor Vehicles that took your photo, thumb print and money in exchange for a brand new California driver's license can suspend that license for a variety of misdeeds or rule violations. But a court can do it too, and so can a police officer. Both the DMV and the court can suspend your license without you being present and accounted for, although notice to you is required. Since driving with a suspended license is a crime with serious consequences in California, you'll want to find out about a license suspension as soon as possible and take the necessary action to get it reinstated.
What Causes a License Suspension in California?
You can have your driving privileges suspended in California by the DMV, a court and also by a police officer who can actually confiscate the license. It's best to understand all three of these possible scenarios in order to avoid them.
Under California law, the DMV keeps a demerit point system for negligent drivers with California licenses. A driver will accumulate points for different driving issues, the amount of points set by law for each issue. Under the DMV Negligent Operator Treatment System rules, the DMV adds a set number of traffic violation points to a driver’s record for driving ticket convictions or fault collisions. The amount of the penalty points varies, with more severe offenses chalking up more points and less severe offenses costing you less points. For example, moving offenses usually get you one point (exceeding the speed limit or disobeying a traffic officer, for instance) but more severe moving violations cost you two points (operating a vehicle in a reckless manner or DUI). Note that parking tickets and fix-it tickets are not included in the system and do not accumulate points in and of themselves. However, if you get lots of parking tickets, you may not be able to register your vehicle until you pay them.
Keep your eye on your driving record. If you get four points in a 12-month period, your license will be suspended for six months. You may also be placed on driving probation for a year. The California DMV keeps a record, open to public viewing, of the driving history of each driver in the state. Incidents remain on the record for at least 36 months and sometimes longer, depending on the type of violation.
But the DMV is only one part of the license suspension laws. A judge can also suspend a California driver's license for certain traffic-related convictions. These include breaking speed laws, reckless driving, DUIs with alcohol or drugs, hit and run, road rage offenses and failing to stop at a railway grade crossing. A judge might also order a suspension for child support arrears.
A police officer can suspend your California driver's license on the spot if he arrests you for certain offenses, including under California's Admin Per Se (APS) laws. The APS laws were designed to deter drunk driving. Under the APS program, an officer will immediately suspend your license and confiscate it at a traffic stop if your blood alcohol level is 0.01 percent or more and you are on DUI probation, 0.04 percent or more while driving a commercial vehicle, or 0.08 percent or more while driving a non-commercial vehicle. The officer can also confiscate your license if you refuse to take a blood alcohol level test.
How to Check if Your License Is Suspended in California
The DMV, California courts and law enforcement are legally obligated to take steps to inform you that your CA driver's license was suspended. The key to getting the notices is to ensure your address is up to date at the DMV.
If your license was suspended by the DMV because you accumulated too many points on your driving record in too short a time, the agency sends you several warning letters and notices before the actual suspension takes place. These include a "Level 1 Warning Letter" if you accrue two points within 12 months, four points within 24 months or six points within 36 months.
You will get a second notice, called a "Level 2 Notice of Intent to Suspend," if you accrue three points within 12 months, five points within 24 months or seven points within 36 months. A Level 3 letter notifying you of a probation or suspension will come if you get four points within 12 months, six points within 24 months, or eight points within 36 months. The Level 4 Violation of NOTS Probation and License Suspension arrives if you commit a traffic violation or have a collision while your driver's license is suspended.
If your license is suspended by a police officer who arrests you, the officer will provide you an "Order of Suspension/Revocation" when she takes your driver's license. The California DMV will also send you one afterwards. This order gives you a temporary California driver's license good for 30 days from the issue date. Your driver's license suspension begins at the end of this period of 30 days. You can require a hearing in the first 10 days if you feel the suspension was issued erroneously.
If your driver's license is suspended by the court, it will be at a hearing. Generally, you appear before the court at the hearing. You will have been provided notice of the hearing time and place when you received the traffic ticket.
However, if you have changed addresses without notifying the DMV, or are not, for some reason, getting your mail, you may be concerned. If you are not sure whether your license has been suspended, you can find out from the California DMV by reviewing a copy of your own driving record. You can get an official copy of your driving record by filling out form INF-1125 and mailing it to the DMV address on the form. For an informal copy, you can use the DMV Driver Record Request System. Create an online account, pull up your record and print it off.
Can I Get a License in Another State if My License Is Suspended?
Generally, you will not be able to get a license in California if your license has been suspended in another state, nor can you flee California, after a suspended license, and expect to get one in another state. The Driver License Compact was created to reduce that possibility. But, not all states are members.
The DLC is an agreement between many states that makes it easy for those states to exchange information about drivers' traffic violations and license suspensions. The motto of the DLC is "One Driver, One License, One Record," and it essentially means that your driving record follows you pretty much wherever you go in the country.
Under the DLC, nearly all moving traffic violations that occur in a different state are treated as if they occurred in the state where you hold your driver's license. So, if a member state suspends your license, it will likely be suspended in any other member state to which you relocate. And, if you apply for a license in a new state, your suspension from the former state usually prevents you from getting a new license. When you apply for a new license, the DMV checks to see if your name appears on the National Driver Register, a database that includes the names of people with licenses suspended or revoked.
However, not all states are members of the Driver License Compact. Currently, these states are not: Maine, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan and Tennessee. You may have a better chance of getting a new driver's license in these states if your former license was suspended. But you should be completely honest if you are asked for information about prior licenses.
Read More: How to Handle a Suspended License Ticket
How Much Is a Ticket for Driving with a Suspended License?
In California, driving with a suspended license is a violation of California Vehicle Code 14601. It is always a misdemeanor offense, which means it is among the lesser type of crimes in the state. More serious crimes are called felonies. Still, the penalties for a misdemeanor in California, including driving with a suspended license, can include a fine or time in county jail, or both. The precise penalties depend on your prior record, your driving history and the reason your license was suspended in the first place.
In California, you could get sent to jail for between five days up to six months, plus have to pay a fine of up to $1,000 for a first offense, for driving with a suspended license if your license was suspended for reckless driving, alcohol or drug addiction, negligent operator or a physical or mental condition. If the cause of suspension was a DUI, your jail time could be from 10 days to six months, and the fine could be up to $1,000.
Also, if you are convicted of driving on a suspended license for DUI, the court can also mandate that you install a California ignition interlock device on your car. This prevents you from operating your car unless you provide an alcohol-free breath sample.
Can You Pay a Reissue Fee Online?
In order to get a California driver's license reinstated, you need to pay a fee called a reissue fee. This is in addition to fulfilling all of the other requirements to get your license back. The amount of the reissue fee, as well as the other requirements, vary depending on why your license was suspended.
The most common reissue fee is $55. This is currently the DMV's standard administrative fee, assessed when a license was suspended because the driver failed to pay a traffic citation. Anyone who has a license suspended has to pay an administrative fee of $55 to have the license reissued.
How to pay the reissue fee? You can pay it in person by cash, check, money order or debit card, but not credit card. You can also mail the fee to the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Sacramento. You can pay by debit or credit card over the phone (800 777-0133). And you can also pay online at the "Online Services" page of the California DMV website.
Further Steps for Getting Back Your Driver's License
The other steps you must take to get your driver's license back depend entirely on why it was suspended. If your license was suspended because you were convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol, you must first complete the mandatory suspension period. For a first offense, your mandatory suspension period is six months. You cannot apply to get your license back before that time. You will also be required to complete a "DUI program" before you can get your license back, involving alcohol counseling. The program may be nine months or even longer if your blood alcohol level was .15 percent or higher and you had a record of traffic violations or refused to take an alcohol test. For higher blood alcohol levels, your mandatory suspension period may be 10 months and the required DUI program longer. The reissue fee for a DUI suspension is higher than the general administrative reissue fee. It is currently $125. In addition, you have to fill in and file a form SR-22, a Proof of Financial Responsibility.
Note that the laws about alcohol and the penalties are much stricter for those under the age of 21 years. They are not allowed to have any alcohol in their system at all. If they are picked up on a DUI violation, a person under 21 will lose driving privileges for a year.
Drivers whose licenses are suspended because of a physical or mental condition must give the DMV a satisfactory Driver Medical Evaluation (DS-326) or similar medical information where medical professionals indicate that the issue doesn't impact your ability to operate a vehicle safely.
If your license was suspended because you didn't have car insurance and were involved in an accident, you have to wait out the mandatory one-year suspension, then pay the reissue fee of $125 and file a Proof of Financial Responsibility (SR-22).
- DMV.com: California Suspended License
- Shouse Law: Driving on a Suspended License in California
- DMV.com: DMV Removes Driving Suspensions for Failure to Pay Fines
- DMV.com: California DMV Point System
- California DMV: Driver Handbook
- FindLaw: What Happens if I Have a Valid License in One State, but It Gets Revoked in Another State?
- California DMV: Reissue Fees
- California Courts: DMV Handout
- If you go to a DMV office, schedule an appointment to save time waiting. The DMV has an online appointment system on the home page of its website. Appointments can also be made by calling 800-777-0133.
- Anyone caught driving with a suspended license will receive a fine and accumulate more NOTS points.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. 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 MA and an MFA in English/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.