In Florida, habitual traffic offender (HTO) status is a designation used by the Florida
Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to revoke a person’s driver’s license
for a period of five years. If your driver’s license has been revoked or suspended
as a result of being a “habitual traffic offender,” contact a Jacksonville Habitual
Traffic Offender Attorney in to discuss ways to reinstate your driving privileges.
Florida Law On Habitual Traffic Offender Status
Under Section 322.264, Florida Statutes, a “habitual traffic offender” is defined
as any person whose driving record, as maintained by the Department of Highway Safety
and Motor Vehicles, shows that such person has, within a five-year period, accumulated:
(1) Three or more convictions of any or all of the following offenses:
(a) Voluntary or involuntary manslaughter resulting from the operation of a motor
(b) Any violation of Section 316.193 [DUI];
(c) Any felony in the commission of which a motor vehicle is used;
(d) Driving a motor vehicle while his or her license is suspended or revoked;
(e) Failing to stop and render aid as required under the laws of this state in the
event of a motor vehicle crash resulting in the death or personal injury of another;
(f) Driving a commercial motor vehicle while his or her privilege is disqualified;
(2) Fifteen convictions for moving traffic offenses for which points may be assessed
as set forth in Section 322.27, Florida Statutes, including those offenses set forth
The process of being designated as a habitual traffic offender is best described
with an example. Suppose Driver X is convicted of DUI in 2007. As part of his conviction,
his driver’s license is suspended for a period of twelve months. He fails to complete
the DUI school and does not obtain a hardship license. Consequently, his driving
privileges remain suspended. Five months later, while driving to work, he is pulled
over and cited for driving with a suspended license. The same thing occurs two weeks
later. Driver X, without the benefit of counsel, pleads guilty to both driving with
suspended license charges. At this point, Driver X has accumulated within a five-year
period three or more of the offenses needed for HTO status. Once the record of his
two most recent suspended license convictions is received by the Department of Highway
Safety and Motor Vehicles, he will be designated as a habitual traffic offender and
will lose his regular license for a minimum mandatory period of five years. Barring
a Motion to Vacate his prior convictions (discussed below), even Jacksonville’s esteemed
“law doctor” can’t save him. Driver X must wait a full year (in addition to the
time he was already suspended for DUI) before even becoming eligible for a hardship
What Are the Consequences of a Habitual Traffic Offender Designation?
Under Section 322.27(5), Florida Statutes, a designation as a habitual traffic offender
requires the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to revoke that person’s
Florida driver’s license for a minimum of five years. Unless the designation occurs
in error and a hearing is requested to establish the error, the affected driver will
not be eligible regular driver’s license for a period of five years. The full five
year revocation is mandatory, as there is no provision made in the law for mitigation
or exceptional circumstances. See Chaitkin v. Dep’t of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles,
294 So. 2d 352, 354 (Fla. 1st DCA 1974).
Can a Habitual Traffic Offender Get a Hardship License?
Under Section 322.271(1)(b), Florida Statutes, a person classified as a habitual
traffic offender is not eligible for a hardship license until a full year has elapsed
from the date of revocation. Upon expiration of the 12 month period, the affected
person may petition the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for reinstatement
of his or her driving privilege on a hardship basis. Upon such petition and after
investigation of the person's qualification and fitness and need to drive, the Department
must hold a hearing to determine whether the driving privilege should be reinstated
on a restricted basis solely for business or employment purposes.
Is Florida’s Habitual Traffic Offender Law Constitutional?
Yes. The Florida statutes defining and punishing designated habitual traffic offenders
have survived numerous constitutional challenges since their enactment in the 1970s.
The HTO statutes are not unconstitutional as ex post facto laws, and the standard
for defining a “habitual traffic offender” does not violate a driver's due process
or equal protection rights.
What Causes a Person to Become a Habitual Traffic Offender?
As referenced above, there are several ways for a person to be classified as habitual
traffic offender in Jacksonville, FL. First, habitual traffic offender status will
be conferred on any person who, within a five year period, is convicted three or
more times of one or more of the following offenses: (1) voluntary or involuntary
manslaughter, (2) DUI, (3) any felony where a motor vehicle is used in the commission
of the crime, (4) driving a motor vehicle with a driver’s license suspended, cancelled,
or revoked (with or without knowledge), (5) failing to stop and render aid as required
under the laws of this state in the event of a motor vehicle crash resulting in the
death or personal injury of another, (6) driving a commercial motor vehicle while
his or her privilege is disqualified.
A driver may also be classified as a habitual traffic offender where a driver accumulates
fifteen convictions for moving traffic offenses for which points may be assessed
(as set forth in Section 322.27, Florida Statutes), including those offenses outlined
in number 1-6 above. Because a designation as a “habitual traffic offender” can be
caused by an accumulation of infraction “points,” and because the Department of Highway
Safety and Motor Vehicles administers the points system, the Department’s decisions
receive great weight in determining HTO classifications on this basis.
Specified points are assigned for the following violations:
(1) Reckless driving, willful and wanton;
(2) leaving the scene of a crash resulting in property damage of more than $ 50;
(3) unlawful speed resulting in a crash;
(4) passing a stopped school bus;
(5) unlawful speed not in excess of 15 miles per hour of lawful or posted speed,
and unlawful speed in excess of 15 miles per hour of lawful or posted speed;
(6) violation of a traffic control signal device;
(7) all other moving violations, including parking on a highway outside the limits
of a municipality, but no points will be assessed for violation of the statutegoverning
high occupancy vehicle lanes or the statute governing the use of roller skates, coasters,
toy vehicles, or similar devices on a roadway;
(8) any moving violation covered above, excluding unlawful speed, resulting in a
(9) any conviction under the Florida Litter Law provisionthat involves the use of
a motor vehicle; and
(10) any conviction under the statutory provisionprohibiting the possession or use
of a traffic signal preemption device.
Can Out of State Convictions be Used to Confer Habitual Traffic Offender Status?
Yes. Under Section 322.264, Florida Statutes, any violation of any federal law,
any law of another state or country, or any valid ordinance of a municipality or
county of another state similar to offenses outlined in Florida’s Habitual Traffic
Offender statute can be used to habitualize a driver.
Does a Withhold of Adjudication Prevent the Department of Highway Safety and Motor
Vehicles from Using an Offense as a Basis for Habitual Traffic Offender Status?
The answer depends on the nature of the charge. If adjudication is withheld and
the charge is driving with a suspended, canceled, or revoked driver’s license without
knowledge (a civil infraction), then the offense will not be used towards classifying
you as habitual traffic offender. However, if the charge is driving with a suspended,
canceled or revoked driver’s license with knowledge (a criminal offense), then a
withholding of adjudication makes no difference. The offense will be used towards
Can the Payment of Traffic Fines Older than 5 Years Cause me to be Habitualized?
Yes, according to the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles. The Department of Motor
Vehicles routinely habitualizes drivers for the payment of fines pertaining to civil
infractions (i.e. driving on a suspended license without knowledge), which occurred
more than five years before their most recent offense.
Example: Driver X pleads guilty to DUI 2012. As discussed above, DUI is an offense
that counts towards habitual traffic offender classification. Driver X wants to
obtain a hardship license. Before the Department of Motor Vehicles will issue the
hardship license, Driver X must pay off some old traffic fines, including two citations
for driving on a suspended license without knowledge (a civil infraction). The citations
date back to 2001, more than five years prior. Common sense would dictate that:
(1) the offenses occurred more than 5 years before, and thus they will not be used
to habitualize Driver X, and (2) the State of Florida should not penalize drivers
for meeting their financial obligations. Neither is the case. Under this scenario,
the Department will designate Driver X as a habitual traffic offender, resulting
in an additional 5 year loss of his driving privileges. The reason: the Department
will treat the payment of the fine as a “conviction” date, which results in Driver
X having three HTO qualifying convictions within a five year period.
The solution: Driver X must request a hearing with appropriate court and request
that adjudication be withheld on his 2001 civil DWLS infractions prior to paying
the fines pertaining to those infractions. As discussed above, a withhold of adjudication
on a civil suspended license charge (i.e. driving on a suspended license without
knowledge) is not used by the Department of Motor Vehicles in designating driver
as a habitual traffic offender. Thus, a simple withhold will preserve Driver X’s
license privileges for the long-term.
Is Habitual Traffic Offender Amnesty Available to Remove my HTO Classification?
No. Contrary to the claims made on several Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer
websites, the Habitual Traffic Offender “amnesty” law was phased out effective July
If Classified as a Habitual Traffic Offender, When and How are My Driving Privileges
First, you can petition for a hardship license after one year. Under Section 322.271,
Florida Statutes, a person whose driving privilege has been revoked due to designation
as a Habitual Traffic Offender may, upon expiration of 12 months from the date of
their license revocation, petition the Department of Motor Vehicles for reinstatement
of his or her driving privilege. Upon such petition and after investigation of the
person’s qualification, fitness, and need to drive, the Department must hold a hearing
pursuant to Chapter 120, Florida Statutes, to determine whether the driving privilege
shall be reinstated on a restricted basis solely for business or employment purposes.
If not eligible for a hardship license, the driver must wait the full five years
before petitioning again for restoration of their driving privileges. Upon such
petition and after investigation of the person’s qualification and fitness to drive,
the Department of Motor Vehicle must hold an administrative hearing to determine
whether driving privileges shall be restored either on an unrestricted basis or on
a restricted basis solely for business or employment purposes. Note here that the
revocation will remain in effect until the affected driver actively petitions for
reinstatement. Restoration and reinstatement does not occur automatically. State
v. Green, 747 So. 2d 1007 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999).
Ways to Avoid Habitual Traffic Offender Status in Jacksonville, FL
The phrase, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” has special significance
where a driver is classified as a habitual traffic offender. First, it is essential
that you do not plead to an offense that may lead to an HTO classification. Thus,
you should consult with a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney prior to pleading
to any driving offense.
If prevention has failed, there are often steps that can be taken to restore your
driving privileges without waiting the full year (for a hardship license) or the
full five years (for a regular license). With a Jacksonville criminal lawyer at
your side, you may be able to contest the legality of the decision to classify you
as a habitual traffic offender in the first place. If you have received a notice
of a Florida Habitual Traffic Offender designation, you have thirty days from the
date you receive the notice to bring any legal challenges you may have.
Even where there are no legal grounds to challenge the designation based on your
current driving record, you may have options for vacating prior convictions that
counted towards your HTO classification. This is done through a Motion to Vacate,
which challenges the validity of a prior plea (and conviction). There are many
grounds for challenging a plea and, if the challenge is successful, it may result
in a technical conviction being lifted from your driving record. If the vacated
conviction was causing your HTO designation, then you will avoid the five year habitual
traffic offender revocation.
If you have received a letter from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles
notifying you that your license is about to be revoked for five years because of
a Florida Habitual Traffic Offender designation, contact an experienced Jacksonville
Habitual Traffic Offender lawyer today. Our Jacksonville criminal attorney has extensive
experience fighting HTO designations and vacating prior convictions. In appropriate
cases, you may be able to save your license. Call us today for a free consultation.