Michigan Driver’s License Restoration – Don’t wait to get off the Restricted

Anyone who wins a Michigan driver’s license restoration case starts out on a restricted license for at least 1 year, and only thereafter can he or she move to have his or her “full” license returned. Usually, as soon as someone gets the good news about having won his or her restricted license, they’ll immediately start talking about getting their full license back as soon as possible. Over the course of my years as a driver’s license restoration lawyer, however, I have learned that, for a lot of reasons, people often wait longer – much longer than they should – to file for full driving privileges.

DW2-300x268To begin, let me make clear that waiting is never a good idea. The reason is simple: $hit happens. Things often go wrong with ignition units. The overwhelming majority of the ignition interlock violations my team and I handle  are NOT caused by a person drinking alcohol. Rather, many result from either a malfunction of the unit or for errant alcohol readings caused by people doing things like using hand sanitizer and such. When a person uses (and relies upon) something as fickle as an interlock device for a long period of time, it’s all but inevitable that something will go wrong.

At worst, when certain problems occur while someone is on an interlock, the Secretary of State will issue a formal, written ignition interlock violation, and also automatically re-revokes the person’s license. This is called it a “reinstatement of original action,”, the original action being the initial revocation of the person’s license for multiple DUI’s. Not surprisingly, then, It’s best to keep the time frame one spends on the interlock as short as possible. The hearing officers know this through experience, and when conducting a hearing for someone who has been on a restricted license with an interlock for a lot longer than a year, they’ll often ask why the person waited so long to move forward for full driving privileges.

In the course of our work as a Michigan driver’s license restoration law firm, we handle a lot of ignition interlock violation cases, many of which that have nothing to do with a positive alcohol test. Even among the problems that do result from a positive breath test, the overwhelming majority are either  “false-positives” or happen for reasons like the person having eaten something too soon before providing a breath sample.

I point this out because one of the biggest reasons some people become complacent and don’t worry about remaining on the interlock is that they know they’re not drinking, and not going to drink, and therefore (mistakenly) believe that they have nothing to worry about.

Until something happens.

Another key reason people just remain on the interlock is because the whole situation with being able to drive again, even on a limited basis, is working for them. Sure, a full license sounds great, but once a person can get to and from work and do other necessary things, much of the stress of not having a license goes away.

To use an actual, personal situation as an example, I have been meaning to go over my cable TV package forever. Years ago, I included HBO and Showtime in my channel lineup because they both featured major boxing matches. Some time in the fairly recent past (and that fact that I don’t know exactly when underscores the point I’m driving at), HBO dropped boxing from its lineup. I didn’t notice because I have been too busy to check out any fights on HBO or Showtime for some time now.

Thus, while trimming channels I don’t need and am still paying for is something that I should do, the fact that the TV works when I turn it on, even with all the channels I don’t need (and am still paying for), is “good enough.”

It’s the same thing for anyone on a restricted license with an interlock. It’s human nature to become complacent when things work, and “good enough” is almost always, in practice, good enough.

Until something happens.

Part of the reason I have put off going through my cable package is that, frankly speaking, it’s a pain in the a$$.

To do this, I either have to get on the phone and push a million prompts before I can speak with anyone, or otherwise struggle through a load of (deliberately) confusing online menus, spending who knows how long trying to get rid of the channels I don’t use while keeping the ones I want.

I’m left guessing and hoping that if  and when I do make any changes to my package, I don’t screw up the current package I have that includes the 2 landlines we have in our home, and my high-speed internet service that’s all part of it..

Filing a license appeal case for full driving privileges is, likewise, a pain in the a$$, at least in the sense that it requires a person to get a whole new substance use evaluation (SUE), new and updated letters of support, and otherwise submit all the same (albeit newly-prepared) documents that were filed with the original case.

Then, a hearing must be scheduled and held, as well.

Understandably, like my cable package, this easily becomes something a person puts on his or her “to-do” list and then puts off because things are going “good enough.”

Until something happens.

Where my cable package and someone’s restricted license are different is that nothing will happen to my TV, short of the usual and occasional cable outage, which gets fixed automatically. By contrast, a problem with the interlock can mean the automatic re-revocation of a person’s driving privileges, even if he or she did nothing wrong.

In a recent article, I wrote about a client who had been doing just fine on the interlock until one wintery day, he stepped out of his vehicle to scrape off a piece of ice from his passenger sideview mirror. As he walked back to the driver’s side, he slipped on some ice at the rear of his vehicle and fell down, getting pretty banged up in the process.

Because he didn’t get up and back in his vehicle fast enough, he missed a retest, received a Secretary of State interlock violation, and thereby lost his ability to drive until we had the hearing, when his restricted license was finally reinstated.

I distinctly recall this client calling us to get his full license as soon as he was legally able to do so.

Technically speaking, the restoration of full driving privileges is called a “change or removed of restrictions.”

In the real world, it’s more common than not for most people who ultimately file a request for a full license to have had some issue or issues while on the interlock. Few people are able to go a whole year or longer with a completely clean and perfect interlock report (called an “annual report”).

As the old saying goes, “$hit happens,” and lots of the $hit that happens while on an interlock is not caused by someone being negligent or otherwise disregarding the interlock rules.

In that regard, one of the most common issues we encounter while someone is using an interlock is a positive breath test result at startup. Let me explain this a bit more:

Under the Michigan Secretary of State’s rules, a person will not be violated for a single startup failure.

Instead, the a person must wind up getting 3 of them (meaning a breath tests of .25 or higher, which prevents the vehicle from starting) within a single monitoring period.

This means that between calibrations, a person can have 1, or even 2 startup failures and NOT be violated.

Positive breath test results happen all the time, and for a million reasons that have NOTHING to do with a person actually consuming beverage alcohol.

Ignition interlock violations are a rather broad and deep subject in their own right. It’s impossible to do a quick overview of them, and even if we could, it would take us too far off the path of this article.

For now, it’s just important to understand that no matter how much a person knows that he or she is not going to consume alcohol, and no matter how committed he or she is to following all of the interlock rules to the letter, things do happen, like an inexplicable and out of the blue positive breath test result.

Here’s why this is so important; when a person goes for his or her full license, the hearing officer is going to examine every single problem detailed on the activity log for the device. The “activity log” is part of the final report, and the person is going to be expected to satisfactorily explain every positive test result or other problem with the interlock unit during his or her time on it.

In the real world, this all becomes a matter of simple math: the longer one drives on an interlock, the more opportunity there is for something to go wrong.

By contrast, the sooner a person gets off of it, the less chances he or she takes for that to happen.

As I noted before, filing for a full license requires that a person provide updated versions of all the original documents filed the first time. In our office, just like with every initial appeal case we take, my team and I handle and control every single aspect and facet of these cases, and employ that same standard of care when filing for a full license:

  • We still meet with each client to prepare him or her to undergo the substance use evaluation, and we still go over what information the letters of support should contain.
  • Just as with the initial appeal, we carefully review the new evaluation and review every letter, making corrections and then sending them back for revisions.

Thus, most of the “pain in the a$$” work falls upon my team and I, and not the client. And make no mistake, absolutely none of what’s involved in filing another appeal is as burdensome as going through an ignition interlock violation, having one’s license re-revoked, and then having to wait for a hearing to have restricted driving privileges reinstated.

As it happens in most cases, when someone who is otherwise eligible to file for a full license (but who has not yet done so) winds up getting violated, one of the first questions they ask is if they can also appeal for full driving privileges at the same time they have their violation hearing.


A person who has been on a restricted license, but then has that license revoked again for an ignition interlock violation, has 2 choices: either appeal the violation within 14 days, or, if not, then wait a whole year to file a new license case.

In other words, a person who gets re-revoked (remember, that’s a “reinstatement of original action,” that original action being the revocation of his or her license for multiple DUI convictions) while on a restricted license cannot, by law, file for a full license until AFTER his or her violation has been overturned, and gets back on the restricted.

This is because a person must currently be ON a restricted license to be able to request a full license.

That said, when a person who was eligible to file for full privileges gets violated, but then wins his or her violation hearing, he or she can file for that full license the very minute their restricted license gets reinstated.

If you’re getting the idea that this can be a big mess, then you’re following the trail here. The simple takeaway is that the best strategy to avoid any interlock problems that haven’t occurred yet is to file for that full license as soon as possible.

If you are looking to hire a lawyer to move forward with an appeal for a full license, or even just to win a restricted license the first time around, be a good consumer and do your homework. Read how lawyers explain the driver’s license restoration appeal process, and how they explain their approach to it.

When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around; you can learn a lot by talking to a live person.

As long as it relates to a Michigan license or Michigan hold, our firm can handle a license appeal or interlock violation case no matter where you live.

All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things, and even compare notes with whatever some other lawyer has said.

We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.