My driver’s license was suspended for unpaid criminal traffic fines. Can I get it back?

What you can do to try to get your driver's license back if it has been suspended because of tickets. #9356EN

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

This fact sheet helps you learn how to get your license back if it was suspended for unpaid fines from criminal traffic tickets, also sometimes called "legal financial obligations," or "LFOs".

There are multiple ways you can find out.  First, try to check the notice you received about the unpaid traffic ticket. See if the notice lists the type of ticket. If it is a criminal traffic ticket, confirm that your license was actually suspended.

To confirm that your license is suspended, check the status of your license online or call 360-902-3900. You will need your Washington driver's license number and your date of birth. No account or login information is needed. You do not need to pay for a copy of your complete driving record to see if your license is suspended.

To confirm that DOL suspended your license because of unpaid criminal traffic fines, register online for a License eXpress account with the DOL. 

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

*Out-of-State Suspensions: If your license from another state is suspended, 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's license agency to find out how to fix your suspension.

Call the clerk's office for the court that fined you. Ask them what you need to do to reinstate your license. Ask them if they have a Relicensing Program, which can help lower your fine and/or set up a payment plan. Not all courts have this program.

*If you cannot reach  a clerk, you could go to the courthouse. But if there is a bench warrant against you, they may arrest you at the courthouse. If you never responded to your traffic ticket, there could be a bench warrant for you.  

If the court has a Relicensing Program, ask:

  • if you can take part in it

  • how you can take part

  • what to bring to court

Your goal is to convince the court to take the fine out of collections. You can also ask the court to:

  • waive all collection fees and interest

  • let you set up a payment plan on the fine only

  • or work it off through community service

Bring proof of your financial situation. If you cannot pay the fine in full, bring proof that you get public assistance, rent or mortgage bills, utility bills, pay stubs, tax forms, debts, and so on. Examples of public assistance include food assistance, ABD, TANF, and SSI/SSDI.

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 is 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.

If there is no relicensing program and your case is a criminal traffic case, you can ask for a GR 39 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 if they can give you copies of the forms you need. Many courts have this information available on their website.

If they do not have any forms, you can ask the court to reduce your fines and fees to the extent the law allows using How to ask a court to cancel your non-restitution interest and/or reduce your LFOs.

*You can also learn about how to ask a court to reduce your LFOs at the webpage about General Rule 39 (GR 39)

If the court will not pull it from the collection agency because the judge made a ruling about it, you may have limited options. You could get legal help, see Get Legal Help below.

You can also try to deal with the collection agencies directly. Here are some tips for dealing with collection agencies:

  • Keep records. Keep records of all your phone calls, letters and interactions with collection agencies.

  • 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 owed and show proof you can make future payments.

    • Try to limit giving any specific account identifiers to collection agencies (like bank account or debit card numbers).  Try to show proof of your ability to pay without providing actual account numbers themselves. There is a risk of being overcharged by a collection agency if they have your account information
  • Do not agree to pay more than you can afford. If you miss a payment, your license will be re-suspended. The collection 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. Keep this from happening by making payments. If you are already facing garnishment, read the part of this fact sheet called "My tickets are in garnishment or "judgment".

  • Do not give a collection agency unnecessary info about your job, bank accounts, or other sources of income. Try to avoid specific account numbers or identifiers.  You don't have to tell debt collectors where you work or how much you make.

  • Do not pay by check or with a debit card. There is a risk of being overcharged by a collection agency if they have your account or debit card information. It may be difficult to prove any unauthorized charges if a collection agency charges you more or more often than you authorized.

  • Make payments by credit card or money order if you can. This can prevent overcharging by the collection agency.

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.

Certain amounts of your income might be protected depending on how much you earn. Garnishment and exceptions to garnishment can be complicated.

Learn more about garnishment in this fact sheet:

Learn more about what kinds of property and income are protected from garnishments in these fact sheets:

If your wages or bank account are garnished, the court usually cannot pull that ticket from collections. You can try to work out a payment plan with the collection agency. If you have a low income, apply for legal help (see below.) There are kinds of income that are protected and cannot be garnished.

Maybe. While your driver's license is suspended or revoked, you may be eligible to receive an Occupational/Restricted Driver License (ORL).

For information about restricted licenses, contact the Department of Licensing.

Get Legal Help

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

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Last Review and Update: Jul 27, 2023
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