Sidelined Without a Driver’s License? We Can Help!

In today’s society, people are more reliant than ever on automobiles to get to-and-from the places they need to be. Indiana is trying to curb some of that dependence by investing heavily in a public transportation system, but it seems impossible to phase out personal vehicles entirely. What happens, then, if you’re not allowed to drive yourself anywhere? Speaking for myself and the other attorneys at the Marc Lopez Law Firm, if we couldn’t drive, we couldn’t survive. We’d be unable to get to court on time and unable to meet the needs of our clients. An attorney who’s always late is probably an attorney who’s used to getting fired.

Your driver’s license can be suspended for a number of reasons, including excessive points, failure to file insurance, and DUI / OVWI. The good news is, Indiana has a statutory remedy called Specialized Driving Privileges, and most types of license suspensions are eligible. While Specialized Driving Privileges can’t offer you a completely valid license, they can allow you to drive legally during the course of a suspension. Under an order for Specialized Driving Privileges, your vehicle use will be limited to life’s necessities, such as employment, family obligations, medical appointments, and court hearings. There are no Specialized Driving Privileges for recreational travel. If you’d like to learn more, click here to request the Marc Lopez Law Firm’s free report on Specialized Driving Privileges.

Specialized Driving Privileges: The Basics

The statutory conditions for Specialized Driving Privileges can be found in the Indiana Code, but  judges enjoy a great deal of discretion. There’s no scenario in which you’re entitled to Specialized Driving Privileges—it’s more like you’re asking for a favor, and the judge is the only one with the power to grant it.

According to the statutory provisions, anyone seeking Specialized Driving Privileges must present proof of future financial responsibility (also known as an SR-22 filing) to the court for approval. You must also be prepared to carry the signed order with you in your vehicle whenever you’re exercising your Specialized Driving Privileges. The law also insists that the terms of the Specialized Driving Privileges “be determined by a court,” which is another way of saying that in order for you to drive legally, the judge has to agree to what you’re asking for. You make the request; the judge makes the rule.

Formal requirements aside, if you’re lucky enough to end up in front of a judge who’s amenable to Specialized Driving Privileges, you can expect a few more hoops to jump through. Your judge will almost certainly use their discretionary power to compel you to increase your auto insurance coverage. While the State minimum is $25,000 / $50,000 bodily injury liability coverage, judges uniformly call for proof of $100,000 / $300,000 coverage before granting Specialized Driving Privileges. The rationale for this standard is that judges are looking to protect other Indiana drivers, and you, as someone who’s been charged with a DUI / OVWI, are considered a greater risk than others.

What’s New(ish)? 

As of 2019, the laws that affect Specialized Driving Privileges have changed in a few key respects. Most importantly, the General Assembly has decided to make things a little bit easier on folks facing DUI / OVWI charges who are looking for permission to drive while their case is pending. The way it used to work, as soon as the court got the results of a defendant’s failed chemical test, it would notify the BMV and recommend a 180-day administrative suspension. The court would make this recommendation regardless of whether the person intended to seek Specialized Driving Privileges, and this made it very difficult for attorneys to arrange a scenario where a DUI / OVWI defendant didn’t have to suffer through some period where their license has gone from valid to suspended before settling into their conditional status once the driving privileges were granted.

The new law has done a great deal to ease that transition. Now, when the court gets the results of a failed chemical test, the defendant has the option of filing a notice of intent to petition the court for Specialized Driving Privileges. This notice of intent has the effect of staying—or pausing—the suspension process. The court doesn’t submit the probable cause affidavit to the BMV, it doesn’t recommend immediate suspension, and it sets a hearing on Specialized Driving Privileges within 30 days. A DUI / OVWI defendant who needs to drive while their case is pending can now move directly from the unrestricted driving of a valid license to the limited driving of a conditional license (with Specialized Driving Privileges) without a two-week layover in limbo while their license is suspended.

Of course, almost all Indiana judges require the installation of an ignition interlock device as a condition of Specialized Driving Privileges. This device has a monthly fee attached to it, but in most circumstances, it benefits a DUI / OVWI defendant to have interlock imposed on them. This is because if you’re ultimately convicted, you’ll necessarily have a license suspension as a part of your criminal sentence. As long as you’re driving with an interlock device, your time on Specialized Driving Privileges counts toward that license suspension. If you don’t have interlock, however, you don’t get credit for your period of conditional driving.

There have also been some changes regarding the minimum and maximum statutory duration of an order for Specialized Driving Privileges. When the law was first introduced, Specialized Driving Privileges had to last for at least 180 days, and they could continue indefinitely, subject to the court’s judgment. The short end has always been rigid and can’t be adjusted for convenience. For example, if your license was suspended on January 1, but you weren’t granted Specialized Driving Privileges until January 15, your 180-day suspension would be up on June 30, but you’d still have two more weeks of conditional driving to look forward to. In 2017, however, the General Assembly also decreased flexibility on the back end, capping these orders at two-and-a-half years. This means a person suspended for five years would have to reapply if they wanted to keep driving throughout their suspension.

The big change in 2018 was that the 180-day minimum no longer applies if your DUI / OVWI case resolves in an acquittal or a dismissal. Prior to this, if your license was suspended as a result of a DUI / OVWI arrest, and you were granted Specialized Driving Privileges, those privileges had to last for 180 days—even if you were found not guilty or your case was dismissed. This rule was clearly producing unjust results, so now when this happens, the Specialized Driving Privileges expire at the same time that your suspension is terminated.

What Remains the Same?

While the last few years have seen some substantial changes to Indiana’s driving laws, many points remain the same. One of the Marc Lopez Law Firm’s most frequently asked questions is: If I get Specialized Driving Privileges, what happens if I’m sentenced to a license suspension of less than 180 days? In this type of scenario, there is no way to reduce the duration of Specialized Driving Privileges. In certain cases, a sympathetic judge might be willing to loosen some of your driving restrictions until your order has run its course, but this kind of accommodation is not guaranteed.

The insurance specifications haven’t changed, either, with the statute still requiring an SR-22 filing and individual judges insisting on $100,000 / $300,000 bodily injury liability coverage. If you’re planning to seek Specialized Driving Privileges, there’s no reason to think you’ll be able to get away with anything less.

The attorneys at the Marc Lopez Law Firm understand the urgency of driving needs, and our collective knowledge base regarding motor vehicle laws is second-to-none. If you’re facing DUI / OVWI charges or any other sort of driving suspension, give us a call at 317-632-3642. We’ve made driving our business, and we know we can help.