Occupational Drivers Licenses: What are they, why do I need one, and how do I get one?

What is an occupational driver’s license?

Otherwise known as “essential need licenses”, an occupational driver’s license is a restricted license issued when the holder’s driver’s license has been suspended or revoked. Occupational licenses allow the holder to operate a motor vehicle for the purpose of driving to work, school, and performance of essential household duties. Occupational driver’s licenses are typically sought by people who have had their license suspended due to a DUI/DWI violation, unpaid surcharges (unpaid traffic violation fees, for example), unpaid judgments, excessive citations, and refusal to submit to a field sobriety test. It is important to note that an occupational driver’s license is different from a hardship license (which allows minors to operate a motor vehicle for a set amount of reasons) and a commercial driver’s license (which permits the driver to operate a motor vehicle for commercial purposes.)

Why do I need an occupational driver’s license?

As with everything related to courts, obtaining an occupational driver’s license can be a confusing and laborious process. In light of that, some people risk it and just drive without an occupational driver’s license because they don’t want to put in the time, money, and effort necessary to obtain one. However, if you are pulled over and your license was previously suspended or revoked, and you do not have an occupational driver’s license, you will be arrested, your vehicle will be impounded, you will be charged with a Class B Misdemeanor. You will also have to post bond, as well as pay all costs including court costs and fines. You’ll also have to hire an attorney to handle your case. The expenses associated with these astronomically outweigh the time, effort, and money necessary to obtain an occupational driver’s license. Better to be safe than sorry.

How to obtain an occupational driver’s license

Step 1: Petition a court for eligibility 

In order to obtain an occupational driver’s license, an applicant must petition for an order granting eligibility. The applicant can file a petition to the court where the offense occurred, or from a justice of the peace, county court, or district court where the applicant resides. Each court has different procedural rules which an applicant must follow strictly. Once an applicant’s petition is submitted and all the procedural rules have been strictly followed, the court is tasked with deciding if the applicant is eligible to apply for an occupational driver’s license. If the court deems an applicant eligible, the court will issue a signed court order, which the applicant can then take to the Texas Department of Public Safety, along with other necessary documentation, to apply for the occupational driver’s license.

Step 2: Apply for the license

While the Department of Public Safety is processing the application, the applicant may use the signed court order as a driver’s license for the first 45 days from the date of the judge’s signing. If an applicant has applied for an occupational driver’s license and the Department of Public Safety takes longer than 45 days to process the application, the applicant must immediately cease driving because the signed order is no longer valid as a temporary driver’s license. If the applicant does not cease driving, he or she runs the risk of picking up a Class B Misdemeanor. It is also important to note that the court order can only be used as a temporary driver’s license when the application has been submitted to the Department of Public Safety for review. In other words, the applicant cannot use the signed order as an occupational driver’s license until their entire application had been submitted to the Department of Public Safety.

An applicant must submit the following materials to the Department of Public Safety:

  1. A certified copy of the petition as well as a certified copy of the court order which grants eligibility. A copy of the petition is not required if the applicant is participating in a special drug court program.
  2. A Financial Responsibility Insurance Certificate (SR-22.) An SR-22 is not a type of insurance; rather, it is a document which verifies that the applicant has “high-risk” liability insurance. Basically, an SR-22 is a form provided by the insurance company telling the Texas government and courts that you are legally insured, and will update them if the insurance is renewed or cancelled. An SR-22 is on file with the state of Texas and states that you meet the minimum coverage requirements that are required by law. In order to obtain an SR-22, you would need to call your insurance company and request it. If you have car insurance, you can simply add the SR-22 to your current policy. If you don’t have car insurance, you would need to buy a policy, alerting the insurer of the existence of the SR-22 prior to signing a contract with them. This is because many insurance companies do not offer SR-22s, which is needed in order to obtain your occupational driver’s license. Insurance companies typically charge a fee for SR-22 requests.
  3. A $10.00 payment of the occupational driver’s license fee. This fee must be paid again when the occupational driver’s license expires. Licenses are typically issued for less than a year and must be renewed immediately when expired. An occupational driver’s license may not be issued for more than two years.
  4. Payment of the reinstatement fees.

Typically, the Department of Public Safety will issue an occupational driver’s license if these four requirements are followed strictly. However, the DPS will not issue an occupational driver’s license in one of the following situations, unless the judge has issued a waiver.

  1. The applicant’s driver’s license was suspended due to alcohol or drug-related offense. In this scenario, the applicant must adhere to a 90-day waiting period.
  2. The applicant’s driver’s license was suspended due to a conviction involving intoxication. In this scenario, the applicant must adhere to a 180-day waiting period.
  3. The applicant’s driving record states that he or she has had two or more administrative driver’s license revocations. In this scenario, the applicant must adhere to a one-year waiting period.
  4. The occupational driver’s license will be used for commercial purposes. The DPS does not have the ability to issue occupational drivers licenses which will be used in a commercial capacity.

Why hire a lawyer to assist in the application process for an occupational driver’s license?

The process generally outlined above can take many weeks, and complications frequently arise during it. It is necessary to follow the procedural rules strictly in order to obtain an occupational driver’s license. Further, each court is different, and an attorney familiar with the court system is more aptly able to navigate it. A lawyer is also often required to review forms prior to being submitted to the court and the Department of Public Safety, and also is more able to determine if the applicant is even qualified to obtain the occupational driver’s license.

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