An occupational driver’s license, sometimes referred to as a restricted driver’s license or a work license, is a common, though temporary, replacement for a driver’s license that has been suspended. It’s hard to maintain normal day to day living without the ability to drive, especially in Houston, Texas where there is very little public transportation. In recognition of this fact, certain courts may grant limited driving privileges to those who can prove essential needs. But it’s not proving the need that’s the tough part – it’s knowing what court to go to, what that court’s requirements are, what the DPS requires, and then getting all the proper paperwork formatted, attending the court hearing, and then sending everything to the right people. This is where an experienced driver’s license attorney and trained staff can provide much-needed insight.
Who can (and can’t) get an occupational driver’s license?
License suspensions are one of the standard penalties levied against drivers. Often, a licensed driver will pay a ticket without understanding how it will affect the status of their driver license. Some of the most common occurrences that can result in suspended licenses include:
- Excessive points – When a Texas driver commits and then is convicted of a moving violation, their license is assigned two points. When a driver collides with another vehicle and is issued a traffic ticket for failure to control speed, their license is given three points if he or she is later convicted. Once a license accrues too many points, an annual surcharge is assessed. This surcharge must be paid over a period of three years, and can go up if more moving violations are placed on the driver’s record at the Department of Public Safety. Failure to timely pay the surcharge results in an automatic suspension which lasts until the account is again current.
- Getting and paying a ticket for some minor offense such as no registration while in a surcharge suspension due to a delinquent account.
- Not carrying insurance – It is against the law to drive without proof of insurance, and getting caught without it repeatedly can result in more surcharges and a requirement for special insurance without which results in suspended driving privileges.
- Repeat violations – If a driver gets convicted for several offenses in a short period of time, the Texas Department of Public Safety will start a suspension action. The standard benchmark for triggering a license suspension is four or more moving violations over the course of one year, or seven or more moving violations within two years when reported to the DPS.
- Major offenses – Some criminal offenses can automatically result in license suspension if convicted. Some of those offenses include driving while intoxicated, driving while license invalid, and racing.
In general, a driver can get an occupational driver’s license if they follow the proper procedures, even if their license has been suspended by a criminal court. Normally, the driver would file the petition for an occupational license with the correct court clerk in the county where they reside or where the offense causing the suspension was committed. However, if a criminal court suspended the license, it has total jurisdiction over the process. Some felony judges will grant an occupational driver’s license even if the offense was a serious felony involving the operation of a vehicle. Others will not.
But even if the offense was alcohol or drug-related, a driver might still be able to get a restricted license. However, a caveat applies here. In some cases, the driver must pass through a waiting period before they can petition for an occupational driver’s license. Those waiting periods vary, depending on the reason for the suspension.
Okay, that covers everyone who can get an occupational driver’s license, but who is completely forbidden from seeking restricted driving privileges?
- Any driver who is behind on their child support payments.
- Any driver who has been deemed medically unfit to drive.
- Any driver seeking restricted privileges for a commercial vehicle.
Courts may order additional stipulations that the driver must follow to maintain their restricted privileges. For example, a court may order someone convicted of DWI to attend mandatory Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or counseling. It’s also common for courts to require the installation of an ignition interlock that prevents drivers from operating their vehicle if alcohol is detected in their system. Monthly supervision is often part of the package if the suspension arises out of a DWI, and holders of occupational licenses may have to check in regularly to verify they are operating within the set boundaries.
How does an individual procure an occupational driver’s license?
The answer to this question depends on many variables. Is the suspension due to a DWI conviction? If not, there might have to be an actual need shown in order to get driving privileges. Fortunately, courts tend to be fairly lenient in this regard. In general, courts will grant an order for an occupational driver’s license if the individual needs to drive to work, to school, for child care or for any “essential household duties.” It’s that last one that offers flexibility. Essential household duties in this context can be as basic as going to the grocery store. Most people can demonstrate at least one essential reason for petitioning for an occupational driver’s license.
That being said, courts might require the petitioner to provide a detailed account of when they will drive, and for what reasons. Occupational driver’s licenses (except those arising from DWI convictions) limit the holder to only four hours of road time a day, six days a week. If this needs to be extended, though, courts are usually willing to expand it to 12 hours a day. Some judges, though, are particularly restrictive, not allowing the license holder to drive at night, or requiring them to avoid certain roads. Ironically, the law now requires DWI judges to issue occupational licenses to those convicted of misdemeanor DWI without proving any essential needs and without any time or location restrictions, so long as the driver has an ignition interlock installed in the car being driven.
This is what an individual will need to file with the court and send to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to complete the occupational driver’s license process:
- A sworn petition for the license and a filing fee – First, the individual has to file with the appropriate court a sworn petition for the occupational license and a pay filing fee. Sometimes, there are two different counties that can hear the case, and more than one court in a county. Different courts have different policies.
- The court order granting the license – This must be filed with the correct department within DPS, along with other documents and fees in the correct amount and in the correct form. Until this is done and later processed within the Department of Public Safety, the driver’s record remains the same, showing the suspended driving privileges. There is a temporary window of time after the court issues its order for an occupational license when the order itself is sufficient. From time to time that window varies, based on the backlog at the DPS. At the time of this writing, the window of time is 45 days. So, for 45 days after the court issues its order, having the court order in possession while driving will suffice. Caution: some police officers do not understand the effect of the court order and temporary window. This can lead to legal problems because the driving record still shows an active suspension and no occupational license.
- Reinstatement fees – As mentioned above, along with the court order, reinstatement fees and a registration fee must be paid to the DPS before a durable plastic occupational driver’s license is mailed out. The occupational license itself looks much the same as a regular Class C driver license, except it adds that it is an Occupational Driver License. On the back, it refers to the court order. The court order must always be carried in the car so it can be shown to any police officer who asks to see a drivers license. Reinstatement fees vary depending on why the license was suspended in the first place. Registration fees must be paid for every year that the individual’s occupational license is ordered, and is limited to two years maximum.
- An SR22 insurance certificate and proof of financial responsibility – Before the DPS will issue an occupational driver’s license, it must be satisfied the driver maintains liability insurance. An SR22 certificate must be filed by law. An SR22 form comes from the driver’s liability insurance carrier. It is not the same as the insurance card we are familiar with, which also comes from the insurance carrier. The SR22 certificate is evidence satisfactory to DPS that it will be notified in advance by the liability insurance carrier before insurance is canceled. Cancellation can occur from failure to pay premiums on time or at the end of the policy period coupled with a failure to renew. Failure to pay premiums as required will trigger a notice to DPS from the liability carrier that the policy will expire at a specific time in the near future. The DPS will then cancel the occupational driver’s license if the holder defaults on their insurance premiums. The net effect of all of this is premiums will be collected enough in advance so that the liability carrier will be able to notify DPS in time for DPS to cancel the occupational license at the same time the policy terminates.
If all that information feels overwhelming, fear not. Attorneys experienced in this area have the process down pat and can provide insight into a driver’s particular case. The problem is there are not many lawyers who know their way around in this area of the law. And often, a license is suspended for more than just one reason. And most people don’t have the time to sit around and figure everything out on their own, and they don’t have to. A qualified attorney can simplify and expedite the process for their clients, and get them legally back on the road in a hurry. Sometimes this can be accomplished in a matter of days.