Becoming a habitual traffic offender (HTO) in Washington State can have a major impact on your life and your family by having your driving privileges revoked for an extended period of time. Most people find themselves with the HTO designation without fully understanding how it happened or that it even could happen.
Washington State Habitual Traffic Offender Designation
A person may be designated as a Washington State Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) due to the accumulation of either: 1) Three major traffic offenses in any given five year period, or 2) Twenty driving infractions in any given five-year time period.
“Major traffic offenses” are criminal in nature and include reckless driving, DUI, driving with a suspended license, hit and run, eluding a police vehicle, vehicular assault and vehicular homicide. As far as “driving infractions,” the DOL has a very broad definition of what driving infractions will count in its calculations. For example, even some equipment violations (i.e. seatbelt violations) will be considered.
When calculating the 5 year period, the DOL calculates the offense based on the violation date, and not the date of conviction. For criminal offenses, a court resolution may take years to become final, but it is the date of arrest that that matters.
If the Washington State Habitual Traffic Offender designation is unchallenged or upheld, the driver will be precluded from driving in any fashion for the period of seven (7) years. This means there is no restricted, occupational, ignition interlock or other temporary license available for the entire seven years. This penalty will be imposed independently of any other suspension or revocation.
Challenging the HTO Designation
There are few challenges that can be made to challenge an attempt by DOL to institute a Washington State Habitual Traffic Offender designation and revocation. Although a driver can request an administrative hearing, the only challenge is to the sufficiency of the Department’s records – in other words, did they identify the right driver and did they get accurate records from the courts of the convictions?
Reinstating Your Driving Privileges
Once designated a Washington State Habitual Traffic Offender, a driver can restore their driving privileges in one of three ways:
- Serve the entire seven years with no driving and then petition for full reinstatement (it is not automatic – DOL must clear the driver);
- Serve the first four years with no driving and petition the Department for early reinstatement (must show two years with no offenses and will still have to comply with any other requirements such as interlock device and SR-22 insurance), and agree to probationary conditions for remaining three years, including limitations on number of infractions;
- Enter into a stay agreement with the Department acknowledging that offenses were the result of an alcohol/drug dependency and committing to complete a two-year treatment program (must submit certified treatment evaluation and compliance) and remain on probationary conditions for the remainder of the HTO period, including very strict restrictions on number of infractions. If agreed, the HTO condition would be stayed and driving privileges restored subject to other requirements (such as interlock, SR-22 insurance, etc.).
If any agreement is violated, DOL will move to revoke it and impose the entire 7 year disqualification from the time of violation. For that reason, stay agreements are very dangerous and often result in violations because their terms are so strict. Drivers should be extremely cautious in entering into these agreements, and should only do so after consultation with an attorney.
Obviously, the best way to avoid Washington State Habitual Traffic Offender designation is to avoid the underlying crimes and infractions. For that reason, you should always consult with an attorney before pleading guilty or committed to any offense. To discuss your individual situation, please call 206-849-0519.