Not having a driver’s license may make it impossible to take care of daily basic needs, keep a job, or keep an important appointment, such as a court hearing or a visit to the doctor. Many states allow people with suspended licenses to continue to drive for work or medical reasons. However, New Jersey does not allow anyone with a suspended license to drive for any reason. If you have had your license suspended, this two-part article outlines what you need to know to get back behind the wheel. Part one explains the three steps you must take to get your license back. Part two explains the eight most common reasons for suspensions and how to have each type of suspension lifted.
Step One: Getting More Information
First, you must find out why your driver’s license has been suspended. The easiest way to do this is to call the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) at (609) 292-6500 or toll-free at 1-888-486-3339. An MVC staff person will review your driver history abstract. A driver history abstract is the record kept by the MVC listing all information related to your driver’s license, including reasons why your license has been suspended. When you speak to the MVC representative, listen carefully and write the information down. Be sure to find out the following information:
- How long you must wait to restore your license;
- If you owe surcharges to the MVC and how much;
- If you need to complete an MVC program, such as a Defensive Driving Course or an Intoxicated Driving Resource Center (IDRC) program;
- Which courts to contact if you need to pay outstanding fines or appear in court; and
- If you owe child support payments.
Getting a written copy of your driver history abstract
You will not be mailed a copy of your driver history abstract just by calling the numbers listed above. To get a written copy of the abstract, you must complete an Abstract Request Form and return it along with a $10 check to the address indicated on the form. You may purchase a copy online at www.state.nj.us/mvc/Licenses/driver_history_page.htm with an e-mail address and a credit card. You can also purchase a copy in person for $10 at any of the four MVC regional service centers located in Eatontown, Trenton, Wayne, and West Deptford. Go to the MVC Web site, www.state.nj.us/mvc/Location/index.htm, for the addresses of these facilities.
Step Two: Understanding How to Lift the Suspension
Suspensions can be ordered by the court or the MVC. You can find out who ordered your suspension by calling the MVC or by looking at your driver history abstract.
- Court-ordered suspensions. A court will order a driver’s license suspension for a variety of reasons, including motor vehicle, criminal, or juvenile justice code violations; failure to pay a parking ticket, a court-ordered fine, or child support; or failure to appear in court. In some cases, a suspension will last a set amount of time, such as six months. In other cases, a suspension lasts until you appear in court or pay a fine. The MVC representative will be able to identify which courts you need to contact to get more information about your type of suspension.
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 defender. 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.
Once you have resolved all outstanding court matters, the MVC will be notified either by the court or by you when you bring documentation to the MVC. Once all court and MVC suspensions have been lifted, you may restore your license.
Other resources: Essex County License Reinstatement Program (LRP). The Essex County municipal courts, in connection with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice ( NJISJ), are participating in a new program called the License Reinstatement Program (LRP). This program is designed to help people with suspended licenses due to unpaid fines and penalties in more than one municipal court in Essex County. The program allows all of their municipal court fines to be grouped together and paid under one payment plan that is based upon their ability to pay. To be eligible, you must have:
- A suspended license,
- Unpaid fines in more than one Essex County municipal court, and
- Some source of income.
For more information about this program, call Patricia Copper, LRP Coordinator at the NJISJ at (973) 642-9400 or the LRP Court Coordinator at (973) 693-5765
- MVC-imposed suspensions. Even after you have resolved all court-related matters, you may still not be able to restore your license. This is because the MVC may have ordered the suspension for other reasons, such as:
- Failure to pay MVC fines (called surcharges);
- Failure to complete a course required by the MVC;
- Earning too many points;
- Driving without insurance; or
- Being a “habitual offender.” A habitual offender is someone who has had his or her license suspended three times in a three-year period.
When you speak to the MVC staff, try to find out if the MVC has suspended your license and what you must do to have the suspension lifted. The MVC staff will explain what you must do. For example, you may be able to arrange a payment plan for outstanding surcharges, giving the MVC a down payment and paying the balance over time.
As long as you have no outstanding court-ordered suspensions, you will be eligible to restore your license after you have resolved the reasons for the MVC suspensions.
Step Three: When Can I Drive My Car?
Even after resolving all court and MVC matters, your driving privileges are not automatically restored. First, you must call the MVC to find out if all your suspensions have been lifted and to make sure that you are eligible to restore your license. Then you must pay the license restoration fee of $100. If you also need to restore your registration, you must also pay another $100 registration restoration fee. If you have not driven for more than three years, you will probably need to retake the written or road test. Ask the MVC if you are required to take these tests. To get your new license, you must pay $24 and show six points worth of identification, along with proof of address, at a motor vehicle agency. You can find more information about the six-point ID verification system online at www.state.nj.us/mvc/Licenses/6PointID.htm or by calling the MVC’s toll-free number, 1-888-486-3339.
You should drive only after you have a valid new driver’s license in your possession and written notice from the MVC that your driving privileges have been restored.
Where can I get more information?
More information about driver’s license suspensions and restoration is available in the following sources:
- Nancy L. Fishman, Esq., John W. Bartlett, Esq., and Lowenstein Sandler, P.C., Getting Back on the Road: A Manual for Addressing Driver's License Suspension in New Jersey, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, (May 2003);
- The MVC Web site; and
- New Jersey Statutes Annotated, Title 39, Motor Vehicle and Traffic Regulations, Chapter 5. (N.J.S.A 39:5).
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®.