Difference Between a Suspended and a Revoked License

This illustration shows what the difference is between a suspended and revoked driver's license, including that a suspended license is temporarily out of service, while a revoked license has been fulled canceled and cannot be reinstated.

Image by Emilie Dunphy © The Balance 2020 

Understanding the difference between a suspended license and a revoked license is important if you find yourself in trouble for certain types of traffic violations. The more severe your violation, the more severe the penalties can be. A suspended license is not the same as revoked license. A simple key point to differentiate the two is a suspended license is bad and a revoked license is very bad -- a suspended license is a temporary hardship, but a revoked license is permanent.

Suspended Driver's License

A suspended driver's license means your license is temporarily out of service. You cannot legally drive with a suspended license. There are two types of suspended licenses: definite and indefinite. A definite suspension of your license will end once the suspension period ends and you have paid the necessary suspension termination fees (which vary by state). Licenses can be suspended for several different reasons and offenses vary by state, but a few common reasons for definite suspensions are alcohol or drug related moving violations, driving without liability insurance, or receiving too many traffic tickets. 

An indefinite suspension means that your license will remain suspended until you take some action, such as paying for a traffic ticket (or your child support/taxes, in some states). Your license could also be indefinitely suspended under an administrative review suspension in some states if you have a medical condition that makes you a danger on the road. Getting caught driving with a suspended license will lead to more penalties including fines and the possible revocation of your license. If you are in an accident, your simple misdemeanor charge can escalate to a felony.

Revoked Driver's License

A revoked driver's license means your license has been fully canceled and cannot be reinstated. In order to get a license again, you will have to request approval from your state’s DMV, pay any driver civil penalties you owe, and go through your state's licensing process, which typically involves a written test and a road test (and of course is not free).

If you pass the tests, a new driver's license will be issued -- your old one will not be reinstated. Common reasons for revocations include driving without insurance, being convicted of a serious traffic offense, failing a DMV road test, or making a false statement on a driver’s license or car registration application form. It is also possible to have your driver's license revoked or even permanently revoked due to multiple driving offenses, medical conditions, and age.

License Status and Insurance

Your driver's license status is important when it comes to your car insurance.

Having your driver's license suspended or revoked will probably get your insurance policy non-renewed.

It is possible to insure a vehicle without a driver's license, but it is not easy to find an insurance carrier willing to do it. Expect to be an excluded driver, and pay a higher rate. If you are caught driving while your license is either revoked or suspended, your insurer will almost certainly cancel your coverage, require special (expensive) coverage, or raise your rates dramatically.

Article Sources

  1. New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. "Suppose Your License Was Taken Away." Accessed Jan. 13, 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Medical Review Practices For Driver Licensing," Page 543. Accessed Jan. 13, 2020.

  3. National Conference of State Legislatures. "Driving While Revoked, Suspended or Otherwise Unlicensed: Penalties by State." Accessed Jan. 13, 2020.

  4. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. "Reinstate Your Driver's License." Accessed Jan. 13, 2020.

  5. U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Reasons for Driver License Suspension, Recidivism, and Crash Involvement Among Drivers With Suspended/ Revoked Licenses," Pages 6-8. Accessed Jan. 13, 2020.

  6. Ameriprise. "Understanding Excluded Drivers and Your Auto Insurance Policy." Accessed Jan. 13, 2020.