How Does a Restricted License Work?

Drivers who have committed multiple infractions, or who have been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, may have their driver's licenses suspended for a specific period of time. For some, this can lead to a job loss or make them unable to fulfill critical obligations. In such cases, states may offer a restricted license. Restricted licenses allow the holder to drive for specific purposes. These might include driving to and from work or school, to seek medical treatment or to go to a grocery store. Judges generally have some latitude in setting these restrictions, and privileges vary on a case-by-case basis.


State laws vary on who can be issued restricted licenses, and how soon a person can get one after a suspension. South Carolina allows the driver to apply for a restricted license prior to her administrative hearing. In Virginia, the court can grant a restricted license after someone has been convicted of his first DUI or certain drug offenses, but that individual will have to wait at least three years for one after a third DUI conviction. Nevada allows restricted licenses halfway through the period of a DUI suspension. New Hampshire, meanwhile, offers no restricted license at all -- a suspended or revoked license means the offender can't drive under any circumstances.

Prove Your Need

Restricted licenses aren't automatically granted. You'll need to apply to the relevant agencies in your state and present an effective case that demonstrates your need. The process may involve petitioning the court to grant you a waiver that allows the license, and then filling out the paperwork with the state department of motor vehicles. Some states require a formal hearing, where you'll be asked to verify your employment or otherwise confirm you have a legitimate need to drive. If you need to drive for medical treatment, for example, you'll need a doctor's note. In addition, you could have to prove you have no reasonable alternative besides driving. If you can take a bus to and from work, the state is less likely to issue a restricted license.

Drivers in Training

Many states offer a form of restricted license to young people that allows them to practice driving. These learner's permits are only valid if there's a licensed adult in the car with the teen driver. Others provide restricted licenses to teens who have passed their licensing exams. These have different designs than an ordinary license and bar teens from driving late at night. Those who would ordinarily be too young to drive may get restricted licenses that allow them to go to work or school if they can demonstrate the need.