Getting a Massachusetts Hardship License

In Massachusetts, hardship licenses are sometimes issued during the term of a license suspension, to allow a person whose license is suspended to drive for 12 hours each day, so that he or she can go to work, school, or medical appointments and run household errands. These are only the reasons for issuance. Once a Massachusetts Hardship License is issued, it can be used for any purpose, so long as the driver is operating within the established 12 hour period.  Massachusetts hardship licenses are also known as work licenses, 7 to 7s, or Cinderella licenses.  All of these terms mean the same thing, a license which is valid only for certain hours, because a suspension or revocation is in effect.

There are two sources for hardship licenses in Massachusetts: the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the Division of Insurance Board of Appeal. The Registry only issues hardship licenses for DUI, habitual traffic offender, and drug-related suspensions. All other hardship licenses, such as those issued for false license suspensions, must come from the Board of Appeal. In addition to being able to issue hardship licenses for operating under the influence, drug, and habitual traffic offender revocations, the Board also sometimes issues licenses for 7 surchargable event suspensions, no liability policy, JOL speeding, and some of the other approximately 65 types of license suspensions.  It is also possible to get a hardship license from the Board of Appeal if the Registry denies issuance. However, it is more difficult to get a license from the Board once the Registry has said no.

Those denied a hardship license from the Board of Appeal have the right to appeal to Superior Court. However, these superior court hardship license appeals are almost always losers. In fact, there is not one reported decision where a superior court judge reversed the Board of Appeal in a Massachusetts Hardship License case. This means that, for all intents and purposes, the Board of Appeal is the court of last resort.

Board of Appeal hearings are formal proceedings requiring sworn testimony and documentary evidence. They are recorded and conducted in accordance with certain rules of practice and procedure, so as to insure fairness and a certain level of decorum. There are three members on the Board of Appeal and a 2/3 majority is required to obtain a DUI hardship or other Massachusetts Hardship License. 

Whether from the Board of Appeal or the RMV, applying for a hardship license requires preparation. Timing is critical and trying to get a hardship license too early might mean that you lose your chance to get one and you will have to serve the entire length of your suspension, with no possibility of hardship relief. Therefore, going in for a hardship license before you have served enough time, or without adequate documentary evidence, can be a huge mistake.

An attempt to get a hardship license begins with a thorough and detailed review of your Massachusetts Driving Record, which can be downloaded from the RMV website. The record must be analyzed to see if there are any “showstoppers” on your record which must be addressed prior to applying. Next, any outstanding financial obligations such as unpaid citations, traffic tickets, child support, fast lane fines, and parking tickets must be paid and a release recorded. Traffic  School, such as the National Safety Council Driver Re-Training Program, Alive at 25, or the Attitudinal Dynamics of Driving might have to be completed. Any outstanding warrants or open criminal cases must be addressed. National Driver Register (NDR) out of state issues may need to be cleared. Once the first step of the driving record analysis is done, calculations must be made to see when you are able to apply for a hardship license. Applying too early may result in forfeiture of your right to apply. This means that you will have to serve our entire suspension period.

Document collection is the next step in the hardship license process.  The documents required depend on the nature of your case.  Documents frequently required include a letter from your employer on letterhead, explaining your work hours and need for a license, letters of reference,  drug or alcohol program completion certificates, discharge summaries, letters from counselors or therapists, letters from probation and/or parole, letters from drug or alcohol counselors, letters from AA sponsors, physicians, and/or treatment providers.

Finally, a hearing memorandum must be prepared that addresses hardship and risk of recidivism. Hardship license are only issued when the causes of the present and past violations have been dealt with or brought under control and that the applicant has a legitimate need to drive. Often times, other legal issues must be addressed in the memorandum such as the timing and propriety of the license suspension. This memorandum becomes part of the permanent hearing record.

Once approval is given for a hardship license, the driver must meet with a Massachusetts Registry Hearings Officer and pay required license reinstatement fees. Under Melanie’s Law, other conditions such as installation of an ignition interlock device might also need to be satisfied before the actual hardship license is issued. Also, depending on the length and nature of the license suspension, the Registry or Board of Appeal may require a written examination, learner’s permit, and successful completion of a road test.

Getting a hardship license in Massachusetts can be very difficult. Politicians and the general public have little sympathy for someone whose license is suspended or revoked due to drunk driving, drugs, or an accumulation of traffic violations such as driving on a suspended license. You must make a strong case to win. A lawyer who specializes in hardship licenses can often make the difference between winning and losing. The laws and regulations regarding hardship license are complex and they can often confuse applicants. A lawyer can make this process smoother and increase your chances of getting a hardship license rather than a denial.