In New Jersey, a driver’s license can be suspended for many reasons. This two-part article explains what you need to know to get back behind the wheel. Part one explained how to get more information, the difference between court-ordered suspensions and suspensions imposed by the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC), and how to complete the license restoration process once all your suspensions have been lifted. The second part of this article describes the eight most common types of suspensions and how each may be lifted. To find out what type of suspension you have, call the MVC toll-free at 1-888-486-3339 or call the court that ordered your license suspended.
- Suspensions for Driving-Related Violations
If you are found guilty of violating a motor vehicle law, your license may be suspended either by a judge or by the MVC. You will find out that the MVC is going to suspend your license by way of a written notice sent to you. The notice will state that your license is scheduled to be suspended for certain reasons, such as accumulating too many points as a result of motor vehicle violations. The notice will also explain what you can do to avoid the suspension. For example, if you have accumulated too many points, in some cases you may attend a Driver Improvement Program to remove three points from your license and avoid the scheduled suspension. The MVC can provide more information about this program. If you wish to challenge the MVC’s decision to suspend your license, you may request a hearing in writing.
If your license has been suspended because of driving-related violations, contact the MVC to ask how long the suspension will last and whether you owe any fines. Review the sections below to learn more about court-ordered penalties or MVC-imposed fines (also called insurance surcharges). Once you have waited the required amount of time and paid all fines, this type of suspension will be lifted.
Arrest warrants may be issued for failure to appear in court, unpaid parking tickets, unpaid court-ordered penalties, or unpaid child support. To avoid being arrested, you should first call each court identified by the MVC to ask if a warrant has been issued. If you appear in person, there may be serious consequences, including arrest, incarceration, or an order that you pay bail. If you find out that a warrant has been issued for your arrest, try to get an attorney to represent you. When you appear in court, a judge has a duty to inform you about the public defender or municipal public. However, by that time it may be too late. It is best to contact an attorney before appearing in court. Each municipal court in New Jersey has a public defender. When you call the court about a possible warrant, ask for the name and phone number of the municipal public defender. You may have to pay a fee for municipal public defender representation. There is also a state public defender’s office, but that office only represents people accused of serious (indictable) crimes. For more information about the state public defender’s office, call (609) 292-7087 or visit www.state.nj.us/defender.
- Suspensions for Failure to Appear in Court
If you fail to appear in court for any reason, that court will order your license suspended. Call the MVC to find out which courts have suspended your license. In some cases, a warrant may be issued for your arrest. Please see the warning above to learn how to handle a warrant. Contact each court by telephone to determine what the underlying court matter is and how to get a court date. Once you appear in court, this type of suspension will probably be lifted.
- Suspensions for Unpaid Parking Tickets
A suspension for an unpaid parking ticket is ordered by the municipal court where the ticket was issued. To lift this type of suspension, you must either appear in court and contest the ticket and have the court dismiss it, or pay the fine for the ticket. If you want to contest the ticket, follow the instructions on the ticket or call the municipal court that issued the ticket. If you ignore a parking ticket, a warrant will likely be issued for your arrest. If a warrant has been issued, you must turn yourself in to the court before you will be given a court date to contest the ticket. Please see the warning above before turning yourself in to the court.
If you want to pay the ticket in full, you can do so by mail, in person at the court, or online at http://njcourts.judiciary.state.nj.us/njmcdirect/atswepr2/home.do. If you cannot pay the ticket in full, you should call the court and ask how to arrange a payment plan. Again, do not go in person unless you are sure no warrant has been issued for your arrest.
- Suspensions for Failure to Pay a Court-Ordered Penalty
A suspension can be imposed for failing to pay any court-ordered fines. A warrant may be issued for your arrest if you have failed to pay the court-ordered fine. Please see the warning about warrants above.
If a warrant has been issued, the bond or bail amount will likely be the total amount owed to the court. If you cannot pay the full amount, you may ask the court for a payment plan. Usually, once there is a payment plan in place and a payment has been made, the suspension will be lifted. However, if you miss a payment, the court will probably suspend your license again and will be less likely to agree to a second payment plan.
- Suspensions for Failure to Pay Child Support
If you have fallen six months or more behind on your child support payments, a driver’s license suspension and a warrant for your arrest may be ordered by the court. Please see the warning above. You should contact the Family Division of the court that ordered the suspension to get more information about the arrearages and the warrant. Generally, once a payment plan has been agreed to and a payment has been made, this type of suspension will be lifted.
- Suspensions for Failure to Pay Insurance Surcharge
The MVC can impose fines, called insurance surcharges, for some driving-related violations. Surcharges are imposed once per year for three years in a row. If you fail to pay surcharges, the MVC will suspend your license. Driving while suspended due to outstanding surcharges can result in an additional fine and suspension. You can find out whether you owe surcharges by entering your driver’s license number and date of birth in the search boxes on the MVC’s Surcharge Department Web page at www.njsurcharge.com or by calling the MVC Surcharge Department at (609) 292-7500.
Surcharge-related suspensions can be lifted by (1) paying the surcharge in full; (2) paying a lower amount (“a negotiated payoff amount”); or (3) agreeing to a payment plan. Payments can be made online at www.njsurcharge.com; by visiting an MVC Regional Service Center; by charging by phone at 1-888-651-9999; or by mailing a check to New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, NJ-AISC, P.O. Box 4850, Trenton, NJ 08650.
There is no actual negotiation involved in a “negotiated payoff amount.” Instead, the Surcharge Department will mail you a lump-sum payment notice for an amount that is slightly less than the total due. If you cannot pay the negotiated payoff amount, you should call the Surcharge Department and request a payment plan. If the payment amounts in the plan offered by the MVC are too high, request lower payment amounts. Once a payment plan is agreed to and a down payment is made, your license will no longer be suspended. However, if you miss a payment, MVC will impose a new suspension and you will again owe the remaining unpaid surcharge amount. If you cannot pay the surcharges at all, it may be best to contact a bankruptcy attorney to try to discharge your surcharges through bankruptcy.
- Suspensions for Failure to Carry Insurance
If you are found guilty of driving without insurance, the court will order your license suspended and possibly impose a fine. Also, the MVC will impose an additional suspension. The MVC suspension may be lifted only after you (1) show proof of insurance or (2) turn in the registration and license plates of the uninsured vehicle. You must pay all fines and wait for the suspension period to pass before you will be eligible to begin the restoration process.
- Suspensions for Criminal Code Violations
A suspension may be imposed as a penalty for conviction of some criminal offenses, whether or not a motor vehicle was involved. The length of the suspension will vary and can be found by reviewing the statute under which you were convicted. You can contact the Criminal Division Manager in the county where your sentencing took place to find out what statute you were convicted under.
In many cases, the suspension period is mandatory and will begin when you are released from jail. If the suspension is not mandatory, you may want to discuss your suspension with an attorney to determine if anything can be done to reduce the imposed suspension. Once you have waited the ordered amount of time, this type of suspension will be lifted.
When can I drive again?
You must satisfy all the requirements imposed by the court and/or the MVC in order to lift all suspensions before you will be considered be eligible to restore your license. Your driver’s license will not be restored automatically. In most cases, to fully restore your license, you will have to pay a $100 restoration fee, retake any required tests, and get a new driver’s license from the MVC. You will be legally permitted to drive only after you have been issued a new driver’s license and a notice from the MVC stating that your driving privilege has been fully restored.
What if I need more help?
You may find more detailed information, in a manual published by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Getting Back on the Road, which was used as a resource in developing this article. It is available at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice Web site. If your income is low, you may be able to receive legal advice from LSNJ-LAW™, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline. The hotline telephone number is 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529). (Outside of New Jersey, please call 732-572-9100 and ask to be transferred to the hotline.) Hotline hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. If you are not eligible for assistance, the hotline will refer you to other possible resources.
This article is from the December 2008 issue of Looking Out for Your Legal Rights®.