What Is a Critical Needs License and When Is It Issued?

In the content of a misdemeanor DUI, misdemeanor vandalism, possession of hashish, and other cases involving the suspension of one’s driver’s license, we often hear clients comment, “If they suspend my license, I will lose my job.”  Other times, the client says their license is vital to transporting a sick parent to a doctor or going to school.
The Reader’s Digest Version:  A “critical needs” license is not limited to those under 21 years of age.  It can be issued upon a demonstrated need to drive for education, medical services or employment, but only when reasonable alternatives for transportation are unavailable, impractical or too expensive.
The likely response by a prosecutor to such a consequence is, “well, you should have thought about that before you started drinking” or something similarly sarcastic.

The client facing such hardships or collateral effects is not always without recourse. Under Vehicle Code §§ 13353.8 (anyone) and 13202.5(c) (in the case of a person under 21), a California driver’s license holder can petition the DMV to issue a restricted license in lieu of suspension based on a “critical need” to drive.  Such a license is called a “critical needs” license.

This restricted license can be based upon three basic grounds in general – school needs, medical needs or employment obligations.  More specifically, they are:

1)    School transportation, walking, use of a bicycle or other public transportation options are inadequate for regular attendance at school and other activities authorized by the school.  This application requires a signature by the school principal verifying such facts.  The DMV may then issue a restricted license or even a junior permit allowing restricted driving privileges to and from school and school activities only.

2)    City or county transportation options are inadequate and operation of a vehicle is necessary due to the illness of a family member.  The application needs to be signed by a physician familiar with the illness and should provide a diagnosis, as well as an estimated date when the need for emergency transportation will end.

3)    Public transportation is inadequate and the individual needs use of a motor vehicle to travel to and from employment, the pay from which is essential to providing food, clothing and shelter.  Essential in this context means that the pay from work must constitute a substantial portion for an individual’s or the family’s basic life necessities.

In our experience, when applying for such a “critical needs” restricted license, it is smart to “go all out” to show that existing transportation is “inadequate.”  We recommend printing out a current public bus transportation route map (in color) to show the DMV that the public bus stop nearest one’s home is far away.  Far away should be at least a half-mile.  It is also best to show that other members of the household, by name and date of birth, do not have a valid driver’s license with a brief explanation of why they do not have a driver’s license.

We also recommend that one provide information on the cost of Uber or Lyft for daily use for school or employment and how expensive it would be for the 120 days that one otherwise would have a suspended driver’s license (120 days is the period of suspension for a first-time DUI with no refusal and over age 21).  If the driver’s license holder is under 21 and the suspension is for a year, the cost of using Lyft or Uber for a year should be calculated.  If one is employed, such calculations should necessarily include a comment about how much one earns after taxes to demonstrate how most of one’s paycheck is being spent on transportation, if this is the case.

We also recommend presenting the judge handling the case a declaration explaining why such a license is necessary and asking for the court to find that the need to drive of our client is a “critical need.”  We then present this to the DMV to help our client’s application.  In some cases, this request can prevent the court from notifying the DMV that a suspension is in order.

If the court does notify the DMV of the conviction, an actual thirty day suspension must usually be served prior to issuance of a restricted license.  If the DMV approves such a restricted license, a $125 license reissue fee must be paid and proof of insurance must be shown.

For more information about the DMV in DUI cases general, click on the following articles:
  1. License Suspended at DMV DUI Hearing Despite Improper Calibration of Breath Test Device
  2. Every Question About an Ignition Interlock Device (I.I.D.) That You Had, But Were Scared to Ask
  3. I Lost My DMV Hearing for My DUI- Now What?
For summaries of some of the DMV matters we have handled in DUI cases, view our Select DMV Results.

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