What is a restricted driver’s license and how does it work?

A restricted driver's license (or hardship license) is issued to those who have had their licenses suspended or revoked. It allows you to drive under certain conditions. You can apply for this license at the DMV, but approval depends on the nature of the offense and your driving intent.

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Tonya Sisler has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of South Carolina in Journalism and has worked for 15+ years in management. She has also completed a proofreading certification and is currently a professional writer.

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Brad Larson has been in the insurance industry for more than a dozen years. He started out as a claims adjuster for a national carrier. He has since switched to the agency side of the business. Brad is licensed in all P&C lines.

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Reviewed by Brad Larsen
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent Brad Larsen

UPDATED: Apr 15, 2022

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Things to Know

  • Having a restricted license allows drivers with suspended licenses to drive with certain restrictions
  • A restricted license allows driving to and from work, school, drug and alcohol treatment programs, and medical appointments
  • You may apply for a restricted permit at any Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office

Consider the following scenario: a driver has their driving license suspended because of a drunk driving charge or DUI-related offense. It can be difficult to travel to work, school, or a substance abuse treatment center in such a situation. This is where restricted licenses come in handy.

A restricted driver’s license (or hardship license) is a type of driver’s permit given to people who have had their license revoked or suspended. It’s meant to be a temporary solution until the person can get their regular license back.  

Unlike a regular driver’s license that allows you to drive any time and anywhere, a restricted license imposes certain restrictions that limit your driving privileges. Restricted license holders can use a vehicle within limits, while suspended license holders cannot drive at all.

Keep reading to learn more about this type of license and how to apply for it.

What is a restricted license?

A person whose license has been revoked or suspended (either due to a DUI or another traffic offense) is usually not allowed to drive at all. To get back on the road, he/she either has to pay fines, reinstate the license, attend driving school, or even serve jail time. In such situations, these drivers may be granted restricted licenses in order to gradually return to driving.

A restricted driver’s license allows them to drive during their suspension period, and only in specific circumstances — such as when they need to drive to work or school, or get groceries or other supplies.

This is different from a learner’s license or permit, which is given to beginner drivers so they can practice before taking the driver’s license test.

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What are the limitations?

Restricted license holders are subject to certain restrictions. For example, a person with a restricted driver’s license might be allowed to drive only during certain hours of the day or only within a certain area. 

A vehicle breathalyzer (also called an ignition interlock) may also be required in your vehicle if you have been restricted from driving due to driving under the influence of alcohol. 

Here are the main limitations of driving with a restricted license:

Limited Driving Locations

State laws vary, but generally, a restricted license allows driving to and from work, school, drug and alcohol treatment programs, and medical appointments. You may also be eligible for a restricted driver’s license to travel to court appearances and counseling appointments. Parents with restricted licenses can also drive their children to and from school. When you drive, you will need to carry proof of your destination, like your work or school schedule.

Limited Driving Hours

Almost certainly, a restricted license will be time-limited. Depending on the circumstances, a driver may be allowed to drive only during daylight hours or between specific times as specified by law or the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). There may also be a limit on the number of hours the driver can drive each week, and it goes without saying that the restricted license is not permanent and will expire at some point.

How do I apply for a restricted driver’s license?

You may apply for a restricted permit at any DMV office. You may need to provide proof of future financial responsibility, such as a certificate of automobile liability insurance (SR-22). 

But these licenses are certainly not just handed out to anyone. To be approved, applicants must meet rigorous eligibility requirements (such as reasons for driving). 

Each state’s laws differ, and license applications are reviewed and granted on a case-by-case basis. 

Some states don’t even offer restricted licenses (or they might refer to them as hardship licenses). Check your state’s motor vehicle department’s website if you’re unsure whether your state allows restricted licenses, and what the terms for applying are.

Why was my application for a restricted license denied?

You may be denied a restricted driver’s license for the following reasons:

  • The offense has resulted in death or serious bodily harm to a third party
  • The driver has been convicted of Vehicular Homicide, Vehicular Assault, Aggravated Vehicular Homicide, or Aggravated Vehicular Assault in the past
  • There is insufficient information about the offense, date of violation, conviction date, or disposition in the order
  • The geographic location requested is not an approved location for a restricted license

Any revocation or suspension occurring in another state will be investigated as well. An application can be denied if the individual had a problem in another state besides the one for which the restricted license was requested.

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I want to reinstate my license. What do I do?

Restricted licenses act as a band-aid for drivers who are suspended — they are not a permanent solution. 

If you have a suspended license, you cannot reinstate it before serving your sentence and paying all your fines. In addition, you will have to pay a reinstatement fee. Fees vary from $5 to $1,000 throughout the United States. Costs vary depending on what caused your license to be suspended in the first place and whether it was your first violation. 

You will also need to file an SR-22 for auto insurance. SR-22s are proof that you meet state-mandated auto liability requirements, and you must carry this as well as your proof of insurance. This form is known as FR-44 in Florida and Virginia. Not all insurance companies offer SR-22s or FR-44s. You’ll need to find another insurer if your current provider doesn’t offer them.

Finally, you may want to take a defensive driving course, which can remove points from your license. Some states mandate this as part of the resintatement process (either this or a driver improvement class). During these courses, you will be taught driving basics and proper safety measures, and an instructor will assess your skills. Completing it will deduct demerit points and will set you one step closer to being back on the road.

What is a hardship license? Is it the same thing?

The short answer is yes. Essentially, a hardship license is like a restricted license in that it is a limited driver’s permit that is issued on a case-by-case basis after an application is submitted for drivers with suspended or revoked licenses. The only difference is in the terminology. Some states may also refer to a restricted license as an “occupational license.” 

It is called a hardship license because, as part of the application for one, you must describe the hardships you face if you cannot drive. These include inconveniences like being unable to attend school, get to work, receive medical treatment, etc.

Is there an easier way to get a restricted license?

DUI convictions may require the assistance of a lawyer to obtain a hardship license. Some may need an expungement, while others may need help in the application process. In most cases, a lawyer can increase your chances of getting a restricted license and maintaining your driving privileges.

At the end of the day, though, it still boils down to the reason behind the suspension of your license and whether you have legitimate cause for continuing to drive.

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Driving on a Suspended License

Driving with a suspended license is not the same thing as driving with a restricted license. 

A restricted license is issued by your state’s motor vehicle department and allows limited driving within specified zones and use-cases, but it’s only issued to individuals who have passed a strict application process. 

On the other hand, driving with a suspended license is very much illegal in all states. The consequences of driving with a suspended license include fines, jail time, and impoundment. Your license cannot be reinstated until your sentence has been served, and all fees and fines have been paid. Reinstatement fees may also apply.

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