The 6 Most Common Ways to Get a Suspended License in California

In California, a DUI conviction, driving without insurance, getting too many points, or failure to pay child support can result in a suspended license.
Written by Cameron Thiessen
Reviewed by Amy Bobinger
If your
California driver's license is suspended
due to irresponsible driving, you have to wait until the suspension period is over and then pay to get your license back.
  • A DUI conviction, driving without insurance, and having too many points on your record can cause license suspension.
  • Your license can also be suspended for failure to make child support payments.
  • To get your license back, you have to wait a set period of time and pay a reinstatement fee.
  • A suspended license goes on your record—and it can increase your
    California car insurance

A driver’s license suspension is less serious than a license revocation

While the terms “suspension” and “revocation” are sometimes used interchangeably, they don’t actually mean the same thing. 
Here’s the difference:
  • License suspension: You’ve lost your license for a specific period of time.
  • License revocation: This is a more serious loss of driving privileges. Sometimes, a revoked license can be permanent. In other cases, you might have to completely reapply for a new license or fulfill specific legal requirements in order to regain your driving privileges.

What can your license be suspended for in the state of California?

California organizes suspensions and revocations into five main categories: 
You can find summaries of each category below, or you can read more on the
California Department of Motor Vehicles website
Under California law (California Vehicle Code 14601), driving with a suspended license is considered a misdemeanor. Some major offenses may also result in jail time. 
Here are the six most common reasons why you might have your license suspended and what you can do about it.

1. Driving under the influence (DUI conviction)

If you’re arrested for driving under the influence—including alcohol or even prescription drugs—your license will be confiscated by the arresting law enforcement officer. A DUI arrest will also contribute two points to your driving record.
Consequence: If you are convicted of a DUI, your license could be suspended or revoked. 
For underage drivers: You’ll lose your California driver’s license for one year or until you turn 18, whichever comes later.
If you take the chemical breathalyzer test, the consequences are less severe:
  • First offense: Your license will be suspended for four months, as long as you took the chemical test. 
  • Repeat offenses: Your license will be suspended for one year, but only if you took the breathalyzer test
California’s laws maintain that by driving a vehicle, you are giving implied consent to be tested for alcohol or other substances in your system. If you refuse a drug or alcohol test from a police officer, your license will be automatically suspended, even if you weren’t actually driving under the influence.
If you refuse testing, court-ordered punishments are more severe:
  • First offense: One year suspension
  • Second offense within 10 years: Two-year revocation
  • Subsequent offenses within 10 years: Three-year revocation
In order to get your license back, you’ll need to pay a $125 reissue fee ($100 for minors) to the California DMV at the end of your suspension period and provide
proof of auto insurance

2. Negligence: too many points

Consequence: If you get too many points on your record too fast, your license could be suspended or revoked.
Here are some of the ways you can accumulate points on your record. If you get too many points, your license could be at risk.
One point on your record: Most minor traffic convictions and moving violations—such as speeding, reckless driving, or operating an unsafe vehicle—will get you one point on your record. You’ll also get a single point if you are found to be responsible for a car accident.
Two points on your record: A DUI conviction or a hit and run conviction are both common ways to get two points on your record.
The California DMV has a complex system for assessing and dealing with negligent drivers called the Negligent Operator Treatment System (NOTS). This system keeps track of driving record points and treats negligent drivers on a four-level system. 
NOTS Level I: If you get two points in twelve months, four points in 24 months, or six points in 36 months, you’ll receive a warning letter from the DMV alerting you that you are at NOTS Level I.
NOTS Level II: If you get three points in twelve months, five points in 24 months, or seven points in 36 months, you’ll receive a notice of intent to suspend.
NOTS Level III: You’ll be given a one-year probation and six-month license suspension if you get four points in twelve months, 6 points in 24 months, or eight points in 36 months.
NOTS Level IV: You’ll receive a violation of probation order if you are convicted of any violation or are responsible for a collision while you are still on probation. You will receive automatic Level IV treatment if you fail to appear in court or pay a traffic violation fine. 
Be aware that first and second probation violations result in a six-month suspension period, while a third violation results in a one-year revocation.

3. Financial responsibility: driving without insurance

Consequence: If you get in an accident and you do not have the
car insurance required by California law
, your license will be suspended for four years. 
Once your driving privileges have been suspended for one year, you may be able to get your California license back. You’ll have to go to the DMV office with proof of insurance and maintain that insurance for the remaining three years as a
high-risk driver

4. Failure to report an accident

Consequence: Failure to report a serious accident can result in a suspended license in California.
Suspension will occur if you fail to report an accident in which:
  • Anyone was injured or killed; OR 
  • Either party had over $1,000 in damage
In this case, the suspension period is dependent on the situation.

5. Failure to appear in court for a traffic ticket (FTA)

Consequence: Failure to appear (if you did not pay the fine) can trigger license suspension.
As long as you pay the initial fine, you do not need to appear at the DMV hearing for a traffic ticket. However, if you fail to do either, then your license will be suspended (usually until the issue is resolved). 
If you do appear in court, your license cannot be suspended simply for failure to pay.

6. Failure to pay child support

Consequence: If you don’t pay child support or set up a payment agreement, your license can be suspended.
Section 17520 of the California Family Code mandates that your driver’s license be suspended for failure to pay child support. To get your license back, you must:
  • Make payment in full; OR
  • Resolve the issue via satisfactory payment agreement
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Requirements for
California license reinstatement
depend on the reason your license was suspended in the first place. Typically, you have to wait until your suspension period is up before you can get your license back. Then, the base registration reissuance fee is $14 but license reissue fees range from $100 to $150. You should also expect to have to file a
Proof of Financial Responsibility SR-22
form if you were convicted of a major violation like a DUI.
In some cases, you can obtain a restricted license which will allow you to still drive your vehicle for specific necessary purposes, such as doctor appointments, school, or work. You can check eligibility and apply for a restricted license by contacting your local DMV office. Usually, a restricted license will require that you have an
ignition interlock device
installed on your vehicle.
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