If your license is suspended in North Carolina, you are not alone. A recent study at Duke University covering four decades in NC shows over 1,225,000 active suspensions for failures to appear in court or failures to pay traffic fines, amounting to one in seven adult drivers in the state. 

Let’s look at why so many people are without a basic driver’s license and how to get your license back in North Carolina.

Why So Many Revocations?

There are many reasons the state of North Carolina can revoke a driver’s license. Some of these include:

  • Driving while impaired
  • Driving with a suspended or revoked license
  • Speeding
  • Accumulation of points
  • Moving violations while license is suspended
  • Failure to appear in court for a motor vehicle citation
  • Failure to pay a citation for a motor vehicle citation

Often, poorer populations and those for whom English is not their first language struggle more with our system. Because of language barriers and poverty in our state, many are left without the money to pay the citation or the resources to appear in court. Some individuals in our state don’t understand that a citation is requesting their appearance in court or the payment of a fine.

What Does a Motor Vehicle Citation Mean for Me?

If you get a citation for any motor vehicle transgression, the state expects you to either:

  1. Pay the citation: this admits to guilt and can raise your insurance rates and bring about other punitive consequences.
  2. Appear in court to fight the charges: Most citations that you lose a license for require you to appear in court

If you choose not to pay AND not to appear in court, you can lose your license for failure to appear. You can also lose your license for failure to pay fines or penalties associated with a motor vehicle citation.


In the case of DWI, the consequences of not fighting for your rights in court are severe. An admission of guilt in a DWI case can bring about jail time, community service, a criminal misdemeanor or felony record, higher insurance rates, and loss of your vehicle to the state. Also, you can lose your job and have trouble finding housing because of your criminal record. Once you have a DWI conviction, there is no expungement process to remove it from your record in North Carolina. Getting a license back is dependent on what happens in court. Depending on your number of offenses, a vehicle ignition system monitor must be installed at your expense before you ever drive again.

Speeding, Suspended License Offenses, Accumulation of Points

If your citation is due to speeding more than 15 mph over the speed limit at a speed higher than 55 mph, numerous defenses could keep you from a guilty verdict. Your best defense is a good offense. Fight for your rights in court with an experienced criminal law attorney and keep your driving privileges. The same is true for driving with a suspended license or getting a ticket while driving with a suspended license.

If you lose your license due to the accumulation of points, you will want to fight your last citation in court rather than just paying it. If you can reduce the number of points on your driving record by having your latest citation dismissed, you can keep your driver’s license from being suspended. 

Fighting one of these serious citations in court is the only way to prevent your license suspension. If your driver’s license is revoked, it can only be reinstated if you meet eligibility requirements again.

Failure to Appear (FTA) and Failure to Pay (FTP) Suspensions

A “Failure to Appear” suspension occurs when you don’t appear in court or comply with a citation. A “Failure to Pay” happens when you don’t pay a citation or court costs promptly. If you lost your license due to not appearing in court for a motor vehicle citation or for not paying fines or penalties, there are ways to get your license reinstated. You can use one of the following methods:

  • Pay the charge in the trial division in which you failed to appear. 
  • Show the court that you are not the person charged with the offense.
  • Pay the penalty, fine, or costs ordered by the court.
  • Demonstrate to the court that your failure to pay the fine was not willful and that you are now making a good faith effort to pay the penalty or fine.

If you satisfy one of these conditions before the effective date of the revocation order, the court will delete the revocation order and any entries on your driving record relating to the revocation. You don’t have to pay a restoration fee to get your license back. 

Low on Funds?

If you have an FTP but don’t have the money to pay fines all at once, your case for license reinstatement is still good. According to Shea Denning of the UNC School of Government, you can demonstrate to the court that your failure to pay the penalty, fine, or costs was not willful and that you are making a good faith effort to pay what you owe. 

If your license is revoked because of fines only, you may apply to the court for a limited driving privilege valid for up to one year or until any fine, penalty, or court costs ordered by the court are paid. The court may grant limited driving privilege. You are eligible to apply for a limited driving privilege only if you have not had a limited driving privilege granted within the three years prior for the same reason.

Your Rights

According to North Carolina law, you must be given an opportunity for a trial or a hearing within a reasonable time. Also, if you request it, the clerk of court is required by law to give you a copy of the notice that it sends to reinstate your license if you comply with the requirements. If you have complied with the conditions before the effective date of the revocation, the notice will show that you are eligible to drive (if you are otherwise validly licensed).

Another Way

Remember that whatever citation you pay is the same as declaring yourself guilty. Your best option is to hire an attorney who can work with you on your case to protect your rights. Your citation may not stand up in court, and your case could be dismissed with the right criminal defense lawyer.

Find Help

At Hopler, Wilms, and Hanna, we understand that sometimes your circumstances spin out of control, and you don’t know where to turn. As experienced traffic lawyers, we stand beside you in and out of the courtroom to help you make the best decisions. We fight for your rights and explain how the court system works in North Carolina if you have any confusion. We would love to hear from you about what we can do to help. Contact us online or give us a call to get started fighting for your freedom and financial security.


  1. https://www.ncdot.gov/dmv/license-id/license-suspension/Pages/speeding.aspx
  2. https://www.ncdot.gov/dmv/license-id/license-suspension/Pages/default.aspx
  3. https://www.nccourts.gov/documents/publications/current-waiver-lists
  4. https://www.ncleg.gov/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/PDF/BySection/Chapter_20/GS_20-24.2.pdf
  5. https://www.ncleg.net/enactedlegislation/statutes/html/bysection/chapter_20/gs_20-24.1.html


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