The 10 Most Common Ways to Get a Suspended License in Washington

From traffic tickets to failure to pay child support, these are the top 10 reasons your Washington driver’s license could get suspended.
Written by Sarah Gray
Reviewed by Amy Bobinger
Some obvious reasons for license suspension in Washington state include DUI and too many traffic tickets, but you could also lose your license for offenses unrelated to driving—like failure to pay child support. 
Driving while your license is suspended (DWLS) in Washington is a criminal offense punishable by up to a year in jail and $5,000 in fines—plus, you’re likely to face sky-high
car insurance
costs once you’re back behind the wheel.
To help you understand how to avoid it, we’re breaking down the differences between license suspension and revocation, and listing some of the top actions that lead to both in the state of Washington.
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What’s the difference between license suspension and license revocation?

Though similar, license suspension and license revocation are not the same thing.
  • A license suspension is a temporary loss of your license for a set period of time.
  • A license revocation is a termination of your driving privileges that, unless certain criteria are met, can be permanent.
Getting your license back after a suspension is usually a fairly straightforward—though sometimes costly—process, but getting a revoked license reinstated is not only complicated, time consuming, and costly, but it can sometimes take years, and it’s also not always possible.
MORE: 9 common reasons your license can be revoked

What can your license be suspended for in Washington?

The Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL)
can issue a license suspension or revocation as punishment for a number of crimes. Here are 10 of the most common reasons you may find your license suspended or revoked in Washington state:

1. Violating Washington car insurance laws

Washington car insurance laws
require drivers to carry car insurance that follows at least a 25/50/10 pattern. That means drivers need at least:
you’re caught driving with no car insurance
, or the DOL is notified you’ve canceled your policy, your license will be suspended until you reinstate your policy.

2. Failure to appear in court or pay a ticket

If you’re summoned to appear in court, and you don’t comply, your license could be suspended until you do. The same goes for paying a traffic ticket.

3. DUI conviction

This one may seem obvious, but
Washington DUI laws
require license suspension for at least 90 days and up to four years if you’re found guilty of driving under the influence (DUI).

4. Accumulating too many traffic tickets

Like a DUI, it may seem obvious that your license could be suspended if you accrue too many tickets for traffic violations on your driving record. In Washington, if you’re ticketed for 6 moving violations within 12 months or 7 within 24 months, your license will be suspended for 60 days. Once your license is reinstated, you’ll remain on probation for one year. If you get a ticket during that time, your license will be suspended 30 days for each offense, and your one-year probation period will start over.

5. Driving despite physical impairments

For some drivers, a visual or physical impairment requires certification from a physician to illustrate you’re capable of operating a motor vehicle. If you fail to submit these certifications, your license will be suspended until you do. Plus, if the DOL learns you have a condition that could affect your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, your driving privileges will be suspended until your driving skills can be reexamined.

6. Failure to pay damages

Washington’s Financial Responsibility Law
requires uninsured drivers and owners of uninsured vehicles to pay for damages if they or the driver of the uninsured car they own are at fault in an accident. Violation of this law will result in a 3-year driver’s license suspension.

7. Failure to pay damages required of a civil court judgment

If you or the driver of a car you own is found at fault for a collision in a civil court judgment, you’re required to pay damages within 30 days of the judgment, regardless of your insured status. Failure to pay will result in a 10-year license suspension, and that suspension can be extended up to another 10 years if you’ve still failed to pay the damages you owe.

8. Leaving the scene of an accident

If you commit a
hit-and-run in Washington
state, you could face license revocation for up to a year, up to $20,000 in fines, and up to a decade in prison.

9. Failure to pay child support

If you’re required to pay child support in Washington state, and you choose not to, your license could be suspended until you do. And that doesn’t just mean you’ll need to start making payments to get your driving privileges reinstated, it means you have to pay what you owe in arrears

10. Reckless driving

In Washington, reckless driving convictions carry a mandatory minimum 30-day license suspension.

What happens if you’re caught driving on a suspended license in Washington?

The variety of ways a driver’s license can be suspended and the difficulty involved with getting that license back has led to driving with a suspended license (DWLS) being the most-charged criminal offense in Washington state. The crime of DWLS is broken into three categories or “degrees,” each with its own unique penalties—some DWLS convictions could even result in criminal charges.

DWLS Third Degree 

DWLS in the Third Degree is the most-often charged criminal offense in Washington, and it really need not be. Drivers are charged with this offense when they are caught driving on a suspended license that’s eligible for reinstatement. Assuming the driver has no criminal record, drivers convicted of DWLS in the Third Degree are often charged with a traffic infraction rather than a misdemeanor, and these charges are often dropped once the driver reinstates their license.

DWLS Second Degree

If you’re driving on a suspended license that’s not yet eligible for reinstatement, you’ll be charged with DWLS in the Second Degree. This is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail (though jail time is not mandatory) and a $5,000 fine.

DWLS First Degree

If you’re found driving on a suspended license, whether it’s eligible for renewal or not, and you’re a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO), you’ll be charged with DWLS in the First Degree. Like Second Degree DWLS, this is a gross misdemeanor, but it carries a mandatory jail sentence of at least 10 days and up to one year, plus a $5,000 fine.
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The penalty for driving on a suspended license (DWLS) in Washington state depends on the degree of DWLS you’re charged with. If it was your first offense, you may see your charges dropped entirely, but if you’re charged with DWLS in the First Degree, you could be looking at up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The length of your license suspension or revocation depends on the circumstances that led to it, but they will be clearly outlined on the suspension notice you receive from the Washington DOL. Suspensions could be for a little as 30 days or as long as 10 years, and revocations could result in a permanent loss of driving privileges.
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