What’s a Habitual Traffic Offender Under Washington Law?
The ability to drive legally from point A to point B is critical to the success of anyone’s everyday life. According to data from the DOL, there are nearly 6 million people with a Washington State driver’s license. Of those, there are around 380,000 drivers who have had their driving privileges suspended or revoked. A person license can be suspended or revoked for several reasons; however, being classified as a Habitual Traffic Offender is the most detrimental.
What is a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO)?
Under RCW 46.65.020, A habitual traffic offender (HTO) is someone who has had their driver’s license revoked. The Washington DOL will revoke your license if, within a five-year period, you have been:
- Convicted of three or more offenses listed in RCW 46.65.020.
- Found to have committed or been convicted of 20 or more moving violations listed in WAC 308-104-160.
The first scenario involves an individual that has been charged with a particular crime and subsequently has either been found guilty or pled guilty to that charge. These offenses include:
- Vehicular Homicide;
- Vehicular Assault;
- Driving While License Suspended in the 2nd Degree;
- Hit and Run Attended;
- Reckless Driving;
- Physical Control of a vehicle while under the influence; &
- Attempting to Elude.
The second scenario involves someone who has a combination of twenty separate moving violations within five years. These violations include both driving-related criminal charges and moving traffic infractions. Here is the complete list of those violations.
This five-year period is a rolling clock and will begin on the date of the first conviction or committed finding.
Consequences of Driving While HTO
Washington State has some of the strictest laws in the country regarding individuals caught driving as a Habitual Traffic Offender. If caught, you will be charged with Driving While License Suspended in the 1st Degree. DWLS 1 carries a mandatory minimum jail requirement of:
- Ten days for the first conviction;
- Ninety days for the second conviction; &
- One hundred eighty days for a third conviction.
If you are a Habitual Traffic Offender, it is imperative that you stop driving until you can legally do so. Because the mandatory jail requirements imposed are not worth the risk if you are caught driving.
How Long Will My License Be Suspended if I am a Habitual Traffic Offender?
If the Washington Department of License determines that you are a Habitual Traffic Offender, your driver license is revoked until it’s eligible to be reinstated. Typically, this is for a minimum of 7 years.
Do I have a Right to a Hearing before HTO Revocation?
If you are designated as a Habitual Traffic Offender by the DOL, they must offer you a hearing. Before the revocation, you would be notified by the DOL that they intend to revoke your license and you will be allowed to request a hearing.
At the hearing, the DOL will only be looking at whether your driver’s record supports the HTO designation by looking at the number of convictions/committed findings with a 5-year period. Your license will be revoked if you meet those requirements. Unfortunately, your need to drive or hardship that this will cause is irrelevant in this hearing. However, your HTO revocation can be stayed (not imposed) if you meet specific requirements. Those requirements are addressed in more detail below.
How Do I Get My License Back After a Habitual Traffic Offender Revocation?
Once you are designated a Washington State Habitual Traffic offender, you can restore your driving privileges in one of three ways:
- You cannot drive for seven years and then petition for full reinstatement of your driving privileges. The reinstatement is not automatic. The DOL will still have to approve your request. Therefore, you must request a hearing to ask the DOL to reinstate your license. At the hearing, the DOL will determine whether there is good cause to reinstate your driver’s license. Here is the form to request the hearing.
- You cannot drive for the first four years and petition the DOL for early reinstatement. As above, this is not automatic, and the decision will be discretionary. However, to even be considered for early reinstatement you must meet the five criteria below:
- You have been in HTO status for at least four years;
- There is no evidence that you have drove within the past two years;
- You have met all alcohol requirements (if any);
- There is no suspension for non-compliance with treatment; &
- At least one year has passed since the DOL has denied any previous requests.
If the DOL granta your request for early reinstatement, it will be on the condition that you have lawful driving from that point until the end of the original revocation. This means that you will still have to comply with any other requirements such as SR-22 insurance and not driving without a functioning ignition interlock device. Also, there will be a limitation on receiving additional traffic infractions.
If you violate any of the conditions of the early reinstatement, the DOL will re-revoke your license, often beyond the original seven-year reinstatement date.
- Finally, you may enter into a stay agreement with the DOL if the offenses that led to the HTO revocation were caused by drug or alcohol dependency. In this scenario, you are asking the DOL to stay (not impose) your HTO revocation.
To qualify, you must establish in your hearing with the DOL that you have been assessed as “substance dependent” by a state-certified treatment agency. Also, you must show that since your last criminal offense, you have completed an alcohol or drug treatment program or have completed the first 60 days of that program and are compliant. Finally, your HTO revocation status is not for violating a previous stay or early reinstatement.
If the DOL grants your HTO stay request, the stay will be effective, and your driving privileges restored subject to other requirements (such as ignition interlock, SR-22 insurance and not having any further criminal charges or traffic tickets).
If you violate the agreement, the DOL will move to revoke the stay and impose the entire 7-year revocation from the time of the violation. Therefore, because stay agreements require total compliance, you should only enter into them after careful consultation with an experienced HTO traffic lawyer.