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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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Information on 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, our packet called Filing a Motion to Remit (Remove) Legal Financial Obligations in District or Municipal Court has forms and instructions. 

Which tickets are suspending my license?

To find out, contact the Department of Licensing (online or e-mail is fastest):

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

Out-of-State Suspensions: If you are suspended in another state, Washington suspends your license too. This is true even if Washington DOL has issued you a license that appears valid. If you are suspended in another state, you must contact that state's driver license agency to find out about 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 about what to do to reinstate your license.

*You should call the court first. 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 designed to help you reinstate your suspended license. Ask if the court has one. If so, ask:

  • if you are eligible

  • how you can take part

  • what to bring to court

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

Ask the Court for a Hearing. If the court has no relicensing program, you can ask for a hearing to address a traffic ticket that is suspending your license. Not all courts will grant such a hearing, especially if you have already had a hearing on that ticket. Some courts may have you make the request in writing. If so, ask the court clerk for instructions. You may be able to use the blank Motion and Declaration form at the end of this publication. If you get a hearing, ask the clerk what to bring to and what kinds of results you can expect from such a hearing.

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

Bring Proof of Financial Circumstances. If you cannot pay the fine in full, bring proof of public assistance (examples: food stamps, ABD, TANF, SSI/SSDI), rent, 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, especially if

  • you have gotten many traffic tickets recently

  •  you have gotten multiple tickets for the same infraction

  • you were driving without a license or insurance

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

  • what the mailing address or fax number is

(See the Sample Letter to the Court at the end of this Guide.)

What to Put in Your Letter:

  • Address your letter to "Presiding Judge." Include 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 now to the ticket. This is usually related to your need for a driver license. Examples: you need to reinstate your driver license to travel to work or school, or to take your children or other relatives to appointments.

  • Changes in Your Life that put you in a better position now to take care of the ticket. Examples: You have a new job or other income to make payments, you have stable housing, or (if substance abuse was a factor) you have completed rehabilitation.

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

  • Propose a Way of Resolving the Fine. Examples: you can offer to pay a lower fine amount that you can afford to pay in full, a monthly payment you can afford, or a certain number of monthly community service hours that you can realistically complete.

  • Attach Proof that is related, such as proof of your financial situation, proof of employment, proof you are in school, proof of rehabilitation, letter from a case manager or counselor, and so on.

  • Your Mailing Address so the court can respond by mail.

What Not to Put in Your Letter to the Court

Do not argue about whether you should have gotten the ticket in the first place. Focus on your aim to pay off the fine through a payment plan or to work it off through community service.

Follow Up After Sending Your Letter

A couple of weeks after mailing your letter, call the court clerk. Make sure they got it and given it to the judge. If not, insist that they do so.

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

The tickets listed in this section, below cannot be grounds to suspend your driver 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 you have tickets falling into the categories below that are suspending your driver license, ask the Department of Licensing to lift those suspensions.

Traffic tickets issued on or after June 1, 2013 can only be used to suspend your driver license if you got them 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 be grounds to suspend your driver license.

Traffic tickets issued before July 1, 2005 cannot be grounds to suspend your driver license, even if they are still unpaid.

Should I negotiate with the collection agency?

Maybe. If your ticket is in collections and the court denies your request to pull the ticket from the collection agency, all you can do is negotiate with the collection agency. Here are some tips on how to do so:

  • Offer a Payoff. Collection agencies will often take less than the full amount you owe if you offer to pay a lower amount in full immediately.  "Full amount" means the original fine amount, collection fees, and interest. Agencies differ on this, but 50% of the full amount is usually a good first offer to make. If the first person you talk to does not offer a payoff amount you can afford, ask for a supervisor. They will often give better deals.

  • 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." You must pay off the full fine amount, including 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 amount and show proof you have income to make future payments. Do not agree to pay more than you can afford. If you miss a payment in the future, your license will be re-suspended, and the agency will be less interested in negotiating a new agreement.

Avoid Garnishment. Collection agencies can "garnish" your wages and bank accounts to satisfy your unpaid fines. (See below for an explanation.) To prevent garnishment:

  • Do Not give a collection agency information about your current 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.

What if 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.)

 

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities.  It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice. 
This information is current as of October 2016.

© 2016 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014.

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)

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Last Review and Update: Oct 06, 2016
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