Although driving while license suspended (otherwise known as DWLS) is a criminal act – it is a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor depending on the degree charged, it is something that almost anyone can come into contact with if they are not careful, particularly about paying speeding tickets (which is just one more reason it’s a great idea to hire a Seattle traffic lawyer to help you with your tickets!). So I thought I’d write about it here, giving you a complete rundown of driving while license suspended, in case you ever found yourself charged with it.

Here’s a perfect example. A buddy of mine called me a couple of weeks ago really late at night. I know when I get late night calls it’s usually because something bad is going on. My buddy had been stopped by the cops and hassled because his license was suspended. They made him get out of the car and walk home (they didn’t charge him anything, which was nice).

Why was his license suspended? He forgot to pay a ticket he’d received earlier. He never even knew his license was suspended until the cops stopped him. He was that close to having a criminal record.

Driving While License Suspended | A Brief Overview

DWLS in Washington State is a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor depending on what degree you are charged with. The degree you are charged with is dependent on the level of suspension you were facing at the time you got in trouble (more on that later). Essentially, the stricter the suspension, the higher the degree (DWLS 1st degree is the worst).

Your license can be suspended for any number of reasons, but typically it’s suspended for one of three or so reasons:

  1. You failed to pay some sort of traffic infraction;
  2. You committed some crime that carries with it a driver’s license suspension (DUI and hit and run attended are a couple examples of that); and
  3. You were convicted of a driving while license suspense while your license was already suspended for something.

Driving While License Suspended 3rd Degree Outlined

Like I said, DWLS 3rd in Seattle is a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are punishible by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. In most cases, a DWLS 3rd conviction results in a fine only – the jail time is suspended (you do no jail). Here’s the DWLS 3rd statute (you can also read it hereif you’d rather):

    (1) It is unlawful for any person to drive a motor vehicle in this state while that person is in a suspended or revoked status or when his or her privilege to drive is suspended or revoked in this or any other state. Any person who has a valid Washington driver’s license is not guilty of a violation of this section.

    (c) A person who violates this section when his or her driver’s license or driving privilege is, at the time of the violation, suspended or revoked solely because (i) the person must furnish proof of satisfactory progress in a required alcoholism or drug treatment program, (ii) the person must furnish proof of financial responsibility for the future as provided by chapter 46.29 RCW, (iii) the person has failed to comply with the provisions of chapter 46.29 RCW relating to uninsured accidents, (iv) the person has failed to respond to a notice of traffic infraction, failed to appear at a requested hearing, violated a written promise to appear in court, or has failed to comply with the terms of a notice of traffic infraction or citation, as provided in RCW 46.20.289, (v) the person has committed an offense in another state that, if committed in this state, would not be grounds for the suspension or revocation of the person’s driver’s license, (vi) the person has been suspended or revoked by reason of one or more of the items listed in (b) of this subsection, but was eligible to reinstate his or her driver’s license or driving privilege at the time of the violation, or (vii) the person has received traffic citations or notices of traffic infraction that have resulted in a suspension under RCW 46.20.267 relating to intermediate drivers’ licenses, or any combination of (c)(i) through (vii) of this subsection, is guilty of driving while license suspended or revoked in the third degree, a misdemeanor.

    For the purposes of this subsection, a person is not considered to be eligible to reinstate his or her driver’s license or driving privilege if the person is eligible to obtain an ignition interlock driver’s license but did not obtain such a license.

That seem complicated? I agree. So let’s break it down a little.

First, you have to have your license revoked in Washington State or any other state. If that happens, then if any of these reasons were the reason for the suspension, then you are DWLS 3rd:

  • You failed to give the department of licensing (otherwise known as DOL) proof of completion of alcohol treatment (typically after a DUI);
  • You failed to provide proof of SR22 insurance because you needed it for some reason;
  • You failed to reply with the requirements laid out if you are uninsured and are involved in an accident;
  • You failed to comply with the requirements of a traffic infraction (failed to turn in your paperwork, failed to pay, failed to show up at a contested hearing, etc. – this is what we would do if you hired us to be your Seattle traffic attorneys);
  • You did something in another state that got your license suspended but wouldn’t result in a suspension here;
  • You were suspended for one of the reasons that would have resulted in a DWLS 2nd degree charge, but you were eligible to reinstate your license at the time you picked up the charge;
  • You did something that resulted in a suspension of an intermediate driver’s license.

A little easier to understand now? I thought so.

One thing that’s important to remember when it comes to DWLS 3rd is that the DOL doesn’t consider you eligible to reinstate your license if you were convicted of DUI and could get an ignition interlock license but didn’t. They don’t want to give you a break in that case (and this happens a lot, by the way).

Driving While License Suspended 2nd Degree Outlined

When we talk about DWLS 2nd, we start to talk about some harsher penalties. DWLS 2nd isn’t reserved for those times you forget to pay a traffic ticket. It’s reserved for those times when your license was suspended for something serious yet you still drove around. Let’s take a look at the statute some more, this time with section (b):

    (b) A person who violates this section while an order of suspension or revocation prohibiting such operation is in effect and while the person is not eligible to reinstate his or her driver’s license or driving privilege, other than for a suspension for the reasons described in (c) of this subsection, is guilty of driving while license suspended or revoked in the second degree, a gross misdemeanor.

    For the purposes of this subsection, a person is not considered to be eligible to reinstate his or her driver’s license or driving privilege if the person is eligible to obtain an ignition interlock driver’s license but did not obtain such a license. This subsection applies when a person’s driver’s license or driving privilege has been suspended or revoked by reason of:

      (i) A conviction of a felony in the commission of which a motor vehicle was used;

      (ii) A previous conviction under this section;

      (iii) A notice received by the department from a court or diversion unit as provided by RCW 46.20.265, relating to a minor who has committed, or who has entered a diversion unit concerning an offense relating to alcohol, legend drugs, controlled substances, or imitation controlled substances;

      (iv) A conviction of RCW 46.20.410, relating to the violation of restrictions of an occupational driver’s license, a temporary restricted driver’s license, or an ignition interlock driver’s license;

      (v) A conviction of RCW 46.20.345, relating to the operation of a motor vehicle with a suspended or revoked license;

      (vi) A conviction of RCW 46.52.020, relating to duty in case of injury to or death of a person or damage to an attended vehicle;

      (vii) A conviction of RCW 46.61.024, relating to attempting to elude pursuing police vehicles;

      (viii) A conviction of RCW 46.61.212(4), relating to reckless endangerment of emergency zone workers;

      (ix) A conviction of RCW 46.61.500, relating to reckless driving;

      (x) A conviction of RCW 46.61.502 or 46.61.504, relating to a person under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs;

      (xi) A conviction of RCW 46.61.520, relating to vehicular homicide;

      (xii) A conviction of RCW 46.61.522, relating to vehicular assault;

      (xiii) A conviction of RCW 46.61.527(4), relating to reckless endangerment of roadway workers;

      (xiv) A conviction of RCW 46.61.530, relating to racing of vehicles on highways;

      (xv) A conviction of RCW 46.61.685, relating to leaving children in an unattended vehicle with motor running;

      (xvi) A conviction of RCW 46.61.740, relating to theft of motor vehicle fuel;

      (xvii) A conviction of RCW 46.64.048, relating to attempting, aiding, abetting, coercing, and committing crimes;

      (xviii) An administrative action taken by the department under chapter 46.20 RCW; or

      (xix) A conviction of a local law, ordinance, regulation, or resolution of a political subdivision of this state, the federal government, or any other state, of an offense substantially similar to a violation included in this subsection.

If the DWLS 3rd statute was complicated, then this one is probably even harder to read. Let’s break it down again. Essentially, a DWLS 2nd charge comes down when your license is suspended for one of the following things:

  1. You committed a felony and when committing the felony you used a car (think armed robbery where you drove away, or vehicular assault);
  2. You’ve had a previous conviction of DWLS 2nd;
  3. You were a minor and got popped for MIP or something else alcohol or drug related (in this case the court has to have informed the DOL of this for it to take effect);
  4. You violate the conditions of an occupational license (drive for non-work or school purposes), ignition interlock license (drive without an ignition interlock device in the car), or a temporary restricted driver’s license;
  5. Driving under the license of another state when your license in Washington State is still suspended;
  6. You were convicted of hit and run attended or other similar crimes;
  7. You were convicted of attempting to allude police;
  8. You were convicted of endangering emergency zone workers;
  9. You were convicted of reckless driving;
  10. You were convicted of DUI;
  11. You were convicted of vehicular assault;
  12. You were convicted of vehicular homicide;
  13. You were convicted of reckless endangerment of roadway workers;
  14. You were convicted of racing vehicles on highways;
  15. You were convicted of leaving a kid in a car with the motor running;
  16. You were convicted of stealing cars;
  17. You were convicted of aiding or abetting a crime and a car was involved;
  18. Your license was suspended for some DOL matter (usually DUI); or
  19. You were convicted of some other jurisdiction’s laws that are substantially similar to all those listed above.

So, the important thing to remember when it comes to DWLS 2nd degree is not to mess up the first time. If you didn’t notice, the penalty for a DWLS 2nd conviction is up to 364 days in jail and a $5000 fine (it’s a gross misdemeanor). There is also an additional 1 year suspension from the time your license would have been reinstated from the previous thing you did to catch a suspension.

In most of the cases we’ve had of DWLS 2nd, the offer is a $500 fine – no jail time. Though the more history you have, the more likely it is that jail time will be asked for.

Driving While License Suspended First Degree Outlined

Thankfully, driving while license suspended 1st degree isn’t as complicated as the others. You either are or you aren’t. Here’s the language of DWLS 1st degree:

    (a) A person found to be an habitual offender under chapter 46.65 RCW, who violates this section while an order of revocation issued under chapter 46.65 RCW prohibiting such operation is in effect, is guilty of driving while license suspended or revoked in the first degree, a gross misdemeanor. Upon the first such conviction, the person shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than ten days. Upon the second conviction, the person shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than ninety days. Upon the third or subsequent conviction, the person shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one hundred eighty days. If the person is also convicted of the offense defined in RCW 46.61.502 or 46.61.504, when both convictions arise from the same event, the minimum sentence of confinement shall be not less than ninety days. The minimum sentence of confinement required shall not be suspended or deferred. A conviction under this subsection does not prevent a person from petitioning for reinstatement as provided by RCW 46.65.080.

Okay, so what does that mean? Essentially if you are found to be a habitual traffic offender and you drive while your driver’s license is suspended, you are guilty of DWLS 1st. We’re going to talk about HTO (habitual traffic offender) status in the next post – it is definitely complicated.

What most of the language of this part of law deals with is the punishment – if you reach this level of DWLS they start to hit you hard.

If you are convicted of DWLS 1st it’s still a misdemeanor, but the penalties go up significantly with each conviction.

  • 1st conviction = 10 days minimum in jail;
  • 2nd conviction = 90 days minimum in jail;
  • 3rd conviction or more = 180 days minimum for each conviction.

There you have it, everything you ever needed to know about DWLS from a traffic lawyer. Have questions, comments, thoughts, or suggestions? We want to hear them!