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Driving With a Suspended License in Illinois

How to Get Back a Suspended or Revoked Illinois Driver's License

The State of Illinois can suspend or revoke a person’s driving privileges for 36 reasons. Over 500,000 people in Illinois are unable to legally drive.

Driving[1] with a suspended or revoked license (DWLS) in Illinois[2] is a serious matter. It is a criminal offense. Many people assume getting a ticket for driving while suspended is no different than any other traffic offense. This is not true.

Minor tickets such as disobeying traffic control device, traveling above the speed limit, failing to signal or not having insurance are petty offenses. The penalty for a petty offense is at most a fine; no jail time can be imposed.  DWLS has serious potential criminal penalties.

Criminal Penalties and Consequences

 In Illinois, DWLS is at least a Class A misdemeanor.  Class A misdemeanors have potential penalties of up to 364 days in jail and/or fines of up to $2,500. If there are aggravating circumstances, it can be charged as a felony,[3] and in some instances carry up to 7 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.00.

Even when charged as a misdemeanor, a DWLS arrest means a criminal arrest record, fingerprinting, mug shots, reports to the State Police and the FBI. It is not the least bit like a minor traffic ticket. Misdemeanor or felony, being released from custody requires the posting of a bond. If charged as a felony, the court process will proceed as any other felony.  An eBook guide outlining the steps to follow in restoring driving privileges in Illinois is available for download at:  Get Your Suspended Illinois Drivers License Back[4]

 Information about Suspensions

The Illinois Secretary of State (SOS) is required to notify individuals of a pending suspension or revocation. This is done by mail to the last address on file with the SOS. Though drivers are required to notify[5] the SOS when they move many fail to do so. In that case, the first time someone may become aware that their license is suspended is when they get arrested.

An individual, upon being notified of a license suspension, whether by mail or by arrest, should do the following:

  1. Do not drive until it is legal to do so.
  2. Determine why the license is suspended.
  3. Take steps to clear the suspension.

Obtain a “Court Purposes Abstract”

The only way to know precisely why a driver’s license is suspended and what steps are necessary to clear the suspension is by obtaining a court purposes[6] abstract. The abstract is an individual’s driving history. Instructions for obtaining an Illinois driving history are available from the Illinois Secretary of State.

It is important to get the driving abstract to know exactly why a license is suspended. Examples of the most common suspensions are:

While the above are all driving related, there may be suspensions for non-driving matters, such as failure to pay child support.

Different Suspensions Require Different Action

Knowing the type of suspension is crucial in restoring driving privileges. A failure to appear suspension may be cleared by bringing the case back into court. Mandatory Insurance Suspensions can be cleared by obtaining a specific type of auto insurance referred to as SR-22. Suspensions for too many moving violations may be removed by returning to court on prior traffic convictions and successfully requesting a judge to change a conviction to supervision.

Steps to remove a suspension should be taken immediately upon knowledge of a suspension, and ideally before an arrest for DWLS.  However, if a suspension can be corrected, it is valuable to do so even after an arrest.

Impact in Court of Restoring Driving Privileges

 Any arrest for driving on a suspended or revoked license is a serious criminal case. Most judges and prosecutors consider the steps a driver has taken to restore his or her driving privileges in imposing a penalty. Often the court will allow someone time to pursue restoring his license before assessing the penalty. In most cases, coming to court with either a good license or significant progress in that direction often greatly reduces the penalties.[7]  Starting the restoration process is important even after being arrested, and if possible prior to the first court date.  A defendant who can show effort toward compliance at the first court date usually finds a favorable ear both with the prosecutor and the judge.

[1] “Driving” is a legal term of art, that not only includes being behind the wheel of a vehicle moving down the highway.  The law also includes “actual physical control” of a vehicle while the license is suspended or revoked.  A person whose license is suspended sitting behind the wheel of a parked vehicle with the keys in the ignition could be arrested, charged and convicted of driving with a suspended license.

[2] DWLS is a significant criminal offense in all 50 states.  It’s important to note that it is illegal to drive in Illinois with a license that has been suspended or revoked by a state other than Illinois as well.

[3] Aggravating factors may include: driving during a DUI related suspension, multiple DWLS convictions, driving during a revocation resulting from reckless homicide,

[4] The eBook is available for immediate download. A hard copy of the book may be ordered from Amazon. The law of license suspensions can be quite complex and it is advisable to be represented by an attorney who knows that area of law.  However, there are many steps an individual can take on their own to clear a license suspension, and in doing do, save significant legal fees.

[5] Failing to notify the Secretary of State of a change of address is itself an offense.

[6] Not all driving histories contain all the information needed to take steps to restore driving privileges.  When obtaining an abstract, it is critical that it be “court purposes”.

[7] While DWLS is at least an Illinois Class A misdemeanor with the potential penalty of up to a year in jail, in court suspensions based on different reasons are treated differently.  In matters of unpaid traffic fines or parking tickets and first time offenders, the court will often give someone time to clear up the fines or tickets, and prosecutors may dismiss charges if licenses are restored.  Suspensions/revocations related to a DUI are not treated so kindly and often carry mandatory minimum jail sentences. The outcomes are truly related to the underlying basis for the suspension.


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