Can a Felon Get a Driver’s License?

A driver’s license is a rite of passage for many teens and young adults. Having the ability to drive a car can feel like pure freedom. A driver’s license allows you to travel to and from work, to school, to pick children up from daycare and shop for groceries. Many people can’t imagine living life without a vehicle and requisite driver’s license.

Unfortunately, many people with felony convictions lose that privilege after they have been incarcerated. This can happen for two reasons. One is that license suspension is part of the penalty for your crime.

The second reason is the length of time of your incarceration. Most driver’s licenses require a renewal every five years. To make matters worse, once a license has been expired for more than two years, you must go through the entire process of getting a new license, as though you’ve never had one before. You will have to fill out the application, make an appointment at the DMV, (or wait in line, potentially for hours) pass the written test as well as the driving test.

Getting a Driver’s License

The normal restrictions for getting a driver’s license can vary by state, but generally involve proving your identity, graduated levels of responsibility and driver education, if you are under the age of 18. If you are over the age of 18, you may not be required to take a driver’s education course, thought it would be beneficial if you’ve never driven before or you have limited experience. Then you will need to prove your identity and pass a written test, driving test and vision test.

Getting a Driver’s License With a Felony Record

If you’ve been convicted of a felony, your requirements aren’t different than a non-felon, except in certain circumstances. If your license was revoked because of the nature of your conviction, you may face additional obstacles to getting your license back.

Some situations where your license may be revoked are if you’ve been convicted of a felony Driving Under the Influence (DUI). A felony DUI verses a misdemeanor DUI is usually determined by several different factors. These include your blood alcohol level, if you were speeding or driving recklessly, if you damaged any property and/or injured anyone.

If you had a passenger who is a minor in your vehicle at the time, that constitutes an automatic felony DUI. If you have two prior DUI’s, your third DUI will automatically be a felony DUI as well.

Aside from a DUI conviction, a conviction of vehicular homicide and some drug-related crimes can make getting your license back much more complicated. In these cases, you will need to attend a reinstatement hearing in person, though you may be able to have an attorney represent you instead.

At these hearings, you must provide proof of insurance, proof that all fines have been paid and proof of completion for any court-mandated substance abuse classes, such as attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

If you’ve had your license permanently revoked for multiple DUI’s or vehicular manslaughter you may not be able to get your license reinstated.

Other reasons a reinstatement hearing will not fix your problems include if you have too many tickets or numerous unpaid tickets resulting in an outstanding warrant or failure to pay child support. In these cases, you will need to square away those issues before you can proceed with a reinstatement hearing.

The reinstatement hearings are through the DMV and do not follow the same rules and process as a regular court. That’s why it’s highly recommend you seek the assistance of an attorney specializing in such cases.

In some situations where you’re unable to have your license reinstated, it is possible to have limitations put on your driving, such as only being allowed to drive to and from work, to attend religious services or to pick children up from childcare. Another situation where you may be given a partial exception is if you have a breathalyzer installed on your vehicle. This remedy is sometimes approved for someone who has been convicted of multiple DUI’s but can still show they need to drive to work or elsewhere. When this apparatus is installed in your vehicle, it measures your blood-alcohol (BAC) level when you blow into it. If your BAC is over the legal limit, the device prevents your car from starting.

Driving for a living

It’s difficult enough to get a job if you have a felony conviction, but it can seem even more daunting if you have a black mark on your driving record or a license suspension. You may be surprised to learn that there are many driving jobs available, even with a felony conviction on your record.

You are not immediately disqualified from earning a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) just because of a felony conviction. Specific convictions that may disqualify you include kidnapping, treason, arson, smuggling, bribery, extortion, assault with intent to murder, causing a fatality through negligent/reckless vehicle operation, misconduct with a motor vehicle, first or second degree vehicular manslaughter, using a commercial vehicle in the commission of a felony and driving with a blood alcohol level about .08 percent.

If you’re interested in obtaining a CDL, you must be at least 18 years of age, and have your regular driver’s license. Next, you should get a copy of a CDL manual for the state you reside in. You can find a CDL manual online or at motor offices. This will serve as a study guide for the CDL test as well as familiarizing you with rules and regulations of commercial driving.

Next, you will need to get a commercial learner’s permit, or (CLP). A CLP will allow you to practice driving the commercial vehicles you will be driving with a CDL. As with a regular learner’s permit, you will get used to driving the larger vehicle and practice for your CDL test. You will also need to find a current CDL holder to ride with you while you practice. You can get a CLP at your DMV after passing a short test.

The next step will be to enroll in a trucking school or community college with a similar program. A trucking school will be the quickest option, as they offer Monday through Friday classes for three weeks while programs at community colleges are usually a few days per week, for six weeks.

Once you’ve completed school, you will need to take a driving skills test. You can be exempted from the driving skills test in some circumstances if you’re used to driving heavy machinery. Some examples would be farmers, firefighters, snowplow drivers, active military and veterans, who have two years of driving without any infractions.

Next you will need to pass the knowledge exam. This will be a test on your knowledge from the CDL manual. The test requires a score of 80 percent to pass and will take around an hour and a half to finish.

Finally, you will need to pass a skills test. This is different than a driving test. A skills test gauges how well you are prepared for the aspects of the job in addition to the driving skills required to be a commercial driver. You will run through a process replicating a day in the job. You’ll inspect your vehicle, demonstrate you are familiar with the basic controls of the vehicle, and then show you can competently drive the vehicle on the road.

If you don’t have the time or desire to be a commercial driver, other options can include being a food delivery driver or a ride-share driver.  You may be interested to find that Uber abides by the seven-year rule, and only background checks its riders for the past seven years. Uber will defer to state or local regulations, but their official policy is to run a background check and pull a Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) on each applicant.

To qualify, you must have no more than three minor moving violations in the past three years, such as speeding tickets and failure to obey traffic laws. You cannot have any major moving violations on your record for the past seven years, such as DUI or reckless driving. And lastly, you cannot have a felony, violent crime or sexual offense on your criminal record for the past seven years. If you’re on the national registry of sex offenders, you will not be hired.

The criteria to work for Lyft is similar. They also pull your MVR and run a criminal background check, and you must not have more than three violation, such as accidents, traffic light violations, driving with a suspended license or reckless driving in the past three years. They also prohibit a driver from having a DUI or drug-related violation or driving-related convictions such as hit-and-run or felonies involving a vehicle, in the past seven years. They will also not hire someone with a criminal history of violent crimes, felonies, drug-related offenses, sexual offenses, certain theft or property damage offenses.


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