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In Ohio, Losing Your License Is Easy. Getting It Back Is Complicated.

Here’s everything you need to know about the time-consuming — and expensive — process.

In an illustration, people walk from a parking lot of cars and a bus into a building. Inside the building is a maze.

Ohio issued more than 200,000 new driver’s license suspensions in 2022 to people who owe money for failing to pay court fines or child support or not having proof of car insurance — often called debt-related suspensions.

Getting a license suspension lifted can be frustrating. The Marshall Project - Cleveland and Signal Cleveland answer some common questions.

This article was published in partnership with Signal Cleveland.
How do I find out if my license is suspended?
In an illustration, the word “suspended” is stamped in red over a Black man’s Ohio driver’s license.

You can look at your driving record online. You’ll need to enter your birthdate, the last four digits of your Social Security number, your driver’s license number and your first and last name.

https://bmvonline.dps.ohio.gov/

You can also call 614-752-7600 or 844-644-6268 to have the information mailed to you.

How is a debt-related driver’s license suspension different from a criminal suspension?

A debt-related suspension is when a person’s driving privileges are taken away because they haven’t paid money owed to a court or are behind in paying child support. It is different from a suspension that is part of a punishment in a criminal case, such as a drunken- or impaired-driving conviction.

An illustration of a judge’s brown gavel.

Ohio has dozens of reasons it can suspend or cancel a driver’s license. Some common types of suspensions include:

Noncompliance suspensions

A driver does not show proof of insurance at a traffic stop or at the time of an accident.

License forfeiture suspensions

A person is charged with driving-related misdemeanors and doesn’t show up for court or doesn't pay a court fine.

Judgment suspensions

A person doesn’t follow a court order to pay for property damage or costs related to a person's injury caused by use, care or maintenance of a motor vehicle.

Child support suspensions

A driver doesn't pay child support or appear in response to a subpoena or warrant for child support issues.

Security suspensions

Drivers who don’t have insurance and cause a crash that results in more than $400 worth of damage or injury can have their license suspended if the crash report is sent to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Fines, fees and court costs. What are they, and how do they differ?

There are three main types of payments you might have to make: fines, court costs and fees to reinstate a license. The inability to pay court fines should not prevent you from getting your license back.

Is a warrant block different from a license suspension?
An illustration of a warrant for arrest.

They are not the same, but a warrant block can affect your ability to get or renew a license. A warrant block happens when a municipal court sends information about an active arrest warrant to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The BMV “blocks” its offices from issuing a temporary permit, a commercial driver’s license, a regular driver’s license or renewing vehicle registrations. To lift the block, you have to resolve the issues that led to the arrest warrant — such as criminal charges or failing to appear in court — and pay a $15 fee. This fee is in addition to any reinstatement fees.

What if I drive with a suspended license?

If you are caught driving with a suspended license, you can be charged with an additional crime. If found guilty, the sentence is up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. The suspension of your license can be extended up to one more year.

What happens if my suspended license expires?

You have a six-month grace period to renew a license. You then must get a temporary permit and pass a driver’s test again like a first-time applicant.

How much does it cost to get my license back after a suspension?

Reinstatement fees depend on the type of driver’s license suspension and the number of previous suspensions on your record. They range from $15 to lift a warrant block to $600 or more.

I can’t afford to pay to get my license back. Is there help?

There are a few different options.

An illustration of a pile of dollars and coins.

Reduced fees

Many drivers with regular licenses (not commercial licenses) are automatically eligible for reinstatement fees to be reduced. There’s no application. You can only benefit from the fee reduction once in your lifetime. Suspensions related to convictions involving alcohol, drugs or deadly weapons don’t qualify. You also must provide proof that you currently have insurance. The state should mail a letter to the address on your license after your first eligible suspension is complete. It will tell you the amount of the reduction and what you still owe. Suspended drivers saved an average of $612. The remaining fees will be put on a payment plan, which you can set up at any local Bureau of Motor Vehicles office. They will charge you an additional $10. Or fill out this form and mail it to:

Ohio BMV
Attn: Revenue Management/Points
P.O. Box 16521
Columbus, OH 43216

Waived fees

If you can prove that you are indigent, meaning you cannot afford the payments, you may be able to get the reinstatement fees erased. You can apply to have fees waived more than once. To enroll, provide the Bureau of Motor Vehicles with letters or screenshots that show your name and current participation in:

Community Service

Ohio allows courts to substitute community service hours for reinstatement fees if a court agrees that a person cannot afford to pay. It’s up to each court to offer this option for cases it oversees. Cleveland, Berea and Shaker Heights municipal courts each offer community service hours as an alternative to paying fees. The court will provide you with proof you completed the community service, which you have to provide to BMV when you go to get your license.

Payment plans

You can sign up for a payment plan with the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles after you have completed all other requirements related to the suspension. Once you are on a payment plan, you can apply for a new license or renew a license. If you don’t make one $25 payment every 30 days or if you get a new suspension, the payment plan will be canceled.

If my license is suspended in more than one place, do I have to pay separately in each place?

If you have multiple suspensions from different courts, you would have an additional $25 fee to resolve the suspension in each additional court.

In an illustration, people of various identities wait in line.
What are driving privileges? Do I have to pay for them?

You can request limited driving privileges from the court for certain types of license suspensions. Courts charge different amounts for filing these requests. Cleveland charges $50. Cleveland Heights charges $110. Some courts allow you to ask to waive filing fees if you can’t afford them.

You can request driving privileges if you:

You can find forms for filing the motion at the court or your local library. Cleveland Heights provides a guide with instructions and a blank form.

If I am on a payment plan, can I still drive?

Only if a court grants you driving privileges.

Can I renew my license when it is suspended?

If your license is suspended and about to expire, you can ask the court that suspended your license for an order giving you permission to renew. You have to do this before the license expires. It’s more likely the court will grant permission if you are eligible for driving privileges or have already been granted driving privileges. There will be a fee for filing the request.

I need an ID. What are my options?

You need a valid ID to vote or to apply for some public benefits, such as food or housing or utility assistance. If your driver’s license is suspended but not expired, you can still use it to vote or as proof of your identity. You can get a temporary ID issued if your license is suspended or canceled, but not if you have a warrant block. You can also get a free state identification card in place of your driver's license during the suspension. If you do, your driver's license will be canceled, and you will have to reapply and retest once the suspension period ends. You may not be issued both forms of identification at the same time.

Have a question we didn’t answer?

Submit a question through the form.

Sources: The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Cleveland, Berea, Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights municipal courts.

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Rachel Dissell Twitter Email is a Cleveland-based journalist with more than two decades of experience reporting on the justice system. She is a two-time winner of the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma.