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My Driver License Was Suspended. Can I Get It Back?

Authored By: The Defender Association's Racial Disparity Project
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What you can do to try to get your driver's license back if it has been suspended because of tickets.

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*If your license is suspended because of unpaid fines on a criminal case, use our How to Ask a Washington State Court to Reduce or Waive Your Legal Financial Obligations packet. 

 

Which tickets are suspending my license?

To find out, register online for a License eXpress account with the Department of Licensing (DOL). Go to www.dol.wa.gov/licenseexpress.html.  

*Do not try to get this information from a collection agency. Different courts use different agencies. A collection agency only has info about tickets assigned to it.

Out-of-State Suspensions: If you are suspended in another state, Washington also suspends your license. This is true even if Washington DOL has issued you a license that looks valid. You must contact that state's driver license agency to find out how to fix your suspension.

Should I contact the court?

Yes. Once you know which tickets are suspending your license, call or go to the court that fined you. Ask them what you need to do to reinstate your license.

*You should call the court to do this. If you cannot get through to a clerk, you can go to the courthouse. If there is a bench warrant against you, you may be arrested if you go to the courthouse.

Relicensing Program - Some courts have programs to help you reinstate your suspended license. Ask if the court has one. If so, ask:

  • if you can take part in it

  • how you can take part

  • what to bring to court

Relicensing programs can help lower your fine and/or set up a payment plan.

Ask the Court for a Hearing. If there is no relicensing program, you can ask for a hearing to address a traffic ticket that is suspending your license. Not all courts will grant this hearing. If you have already had a hearing on the ticket, you might not get another one. Some courts may have you ask in writing. If so, ask the court clerk how to do this. You might be able to use our Motion and Declaration form.

If you get a hearing, ask the clerk what to bring and what you can expect from such a hearing.

How do I get ready for a relicensing program or hearing?

Bring Proof of Your Financial Situation. If you cannot pay the fine in full, bring proof of public assistance (examples: food stamps, ABD, TANF, SSI/SSDI), rent or mortgage bills, utility bills, pay stubs, tax forms, debts, and so on.

Have an Explanation Ready for Your Underlying Ticket and/or Driving Record. The judge may ask you to explain your ticket and/or driving record. This especially true if

  • you have gotten many traffic tickets recently

  •  you have gotten more than one ticket for the same thing

  • you were driving without a license or insurance

Bring Proof of Valid License, Insurance, or Tabs. If the underlying ticket was for driving without a license, insurance, or current tabs, you should bring proof that you now have or at the time you got the ticket had a license, insurance, or tabs.

There is no relicensing program. I cannot get a hearing. Now what?

Write the judge a letter asking for a payment plan or community service. Ask the court clerk:

  • who to address the letter to
  • how to get the letter to that person

  • what the mailing address or fax number is

(See the Sample Letter to the Court.)

What to put in your letter:

  • Address your letter to "Presiding Judge." Put the court's address.

  • Ticket Number or case number.

  • Infraction. Describe why you got the ticket. (Examples: speeding, failing to stop at a light, and so on.)

  • Date of Infraction.

  • Why You Are Responding to the ticket. You should try to link this to your need for a driver license. Examples: you need a driver license to travel to work or school. You need to take your children or other relatives to appointments.

  • Changes in Your Life that will now let you fix the ticket. Examples: You have a new job or other income to make payments. You have stable housing. If substance abuse was an issue, you have completed rehabilitation.

  • Request to Pull Fine from Collections (only if the ticket is in collections). You should explain why you cannot work with the collection agency. Examples: the collection agency requires a down payment you cannot afford. You cannot afford to pay your fines, but you can do community service.

  • Suggest how to Resolve the Fine. Examples: you can offer to pay a lower amount that you can afford to pay in full, a monthly payment you can afford, or a certain number of monthly community service hours you can realistically do.

  • Attach Proof related to your requests. Examples: proof of your financial situation, job and wages, proof you are in school or rehab, letter from a case manager or counselor, and so on.

  • Your Mailing Address so the court can respond to you.

What not to put in your letter to the court

Do not argue that you should not have gotten the ticket. Focus on paying off the fine through a payment plan or working it off through community service.

Follow up after sending your letter

Wait a couple of weeks after mailing your letter. Then call the court clerk. Make sure the clerk got it and gave it to the judge. If not, insist that they do now.

I have old or new tickets that I have not paid. Will they suspend my license?

The tickets listed below cannot be grounds to suspend your license. But if you do not pay them, they can still be sent to collection agencies and lower your credit rating. Do not ignore these.

If tickets in these categories are suspending your license, ask the DOL to lift the suspensions:

Traffic tickets issued on or after June 1, 2013 can only suspend your license for a movingtraffic violation, such as speeding. Traffic tickets issued on or after this date for non-moving violations (parking tickets or faulty equipment violations) cannot suspend your license.

Traffic tickets issued before July 1, 2005 cannot suspend your license. It does not matter if they are still unpaid.

Should I try to work something out with the collection agency?

Maybe. That is all you can do if your ticket is in collections and the court will not pull it from the collection agency. Here are some tips:

  • Offer a Payoff. Collection agencies will often take less than the full amount owed if you offer to pay a lower amount in full immediately. "Full amount" means the original fine amount, collection fees, and interest. Half the full amount is usually a good first offer. If the first person you talk to does not offer a payoff amount you can afford, ask for a supervisor. They will often offer something better.

  • Offer a Monthly Payment Plan. If you set up a payment plan, you will probably end up paying more than you would through a "payoff." With a payment plan, you must pay off the full fine amount. This includes fees and interest. On the upside, the agency will release your license as soon as you make the first payment. When setting up a payment plan, you may have to make a down payment of about 10% of the total and show proof you can make future payments. Do not agree to pay more than you can afford. If you miss a payment, your license will be re-suspended. The agency might not want to work out a new agreement.

Avoid Garnishment. Collection agencies can "garnish" your wages and bank accounts to pay your unpaid fines. (See below for an explanation.) Keep this from happening:

  • Do not give a collection agency info about your job, bank accounts, or other sources of income.

  • Do not pay by check or debit card.

  • Do make payments by credit card or money order.

I need some kind of ID right away.

If you get public assistance, have your DSHS caseworker fill out a "Request for Identicard form" DSHS Form 16-209. Take the completed form to DOL to get a Washington State Identification card for five dollars.

What if my tickets are in garnishment or "judgment"?

Once a court has issued a writ of garnishment, a collection agency can directly take money from your wages, bank accounts, or certain other sources of income. At this point, the court typically cannot pull that ticket from collections to help you. (The collection agency may say your tickets are in "judgment." They really mean garnishment.) Your only choices are to challenge the writ of garnishment if there is still time to do so, OR try to work out a payment plan with the agency. If you are low-income, contact CLEAR. (See below.)

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

Download Motion and Declaration Form

Download Sample Letter to the Court

Last Review and Update: Feb 10, 2020
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