Written by attorney Patrick Mahaney

Alabama Driver License Law - Basic Terms and Definitions

Driver License: Any license to operate a motor vehicle issued under the laws of this state. By statute and decisional law, the Department of Public Safety holds the sole and exclusive authority to issue, suspend, cancel, or revoke an Alabama driver license or driving privilege .

Alabama driver licenses are issued by classification. The standard, or general, driver license is a class D license which authorizes the holder to operate a non-commercial motor vehicle on the public highways of this state, which may be subject to certain restrictions.

Driver license classes A, B, and C are Commercial Driver Licenses (CDL) which are issued as an endorsement to the class D license. An applicant for a CDL must first hold a valid class D license, be at least 21 years of age, hold a valid medical certificate that complies with the specifications listed in Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations, and must pass the written and driving examination designed for the class of CDL requested.

Driver License class M is a motorcycle only driver license and does not authorize the operation of a four wheel vehicle. A class M license with a 'B' restriction is designed for motor-driven cycles and may be issued to a 14 or 15 year old.

Driving Privilege: The authorization to operate a motor vehicle on the public highways of the state of Alabama, although the motorist may be unlicensed or licensed in another state.

Suspension of Driver License: Suspension of driver license or privilege is the temporary or limited time period removal of a driver license or privilege. Suspension actions may be discretionary or mandatory, depending on the statute authorizing the suspension action. Reinstatement of driver license following a suspension order is generally accomplished upon completion of specified compliance requirements, such as settling an unpaid or 'outstanding' traffic violation, or the serving a limited duration license removal as a consequence of a conviction, and the payment of the required reinstatement fee to the Department of Public Safety.

Revocation of Driver License: Revocation of driver license is the complete and full removal driver license or privilege. Revocation is nearly always the result of a conviction of a serious traffic offense and is generally a mandatory duty of the Director of Public Safety. After serving the revocation period, the affected individual must make formal application for a new driver license after serving the required period of revocation. In addition, the applicant for re-licensing after revocation must comply with the Safety Responsibility Law, pay the applicable reinstatement fees, and successfully pass the driver license examination.

The Code of Alabama does not establish a fixed time period when the revocation order expires or the motorist can make an application for re-licensing. However, the Administrative Code for the state of Alabama, in section 760-X-1-.02, Reinstatement of Driving Privileges After Revocation states the following: "The Director of Public Safety, at any time after the expiration of six months from the date of revocation, may reinstate the driving privilege of any person whose privilege of driving a motor vehicle has been revoked..."

Unless otherwise specified by statute, such as the one year revocation period specified in 32-5A-191(f) for second offense DUI, or the three year revocation period specified in 32-5A-191(g) for third offense DUI, the general term of revocation is six (6) months for each revocation order.

Each license removal must be served in succession, with the first license removal action served in full before the second removal action starts, even if the second (or third) license removal is entered before the first removal is fully served. In the recent case of Alabama Department of Public Safety v. Barbour, 5 So. 3d 601 (Ala. Civ. App. 2008), the Court of Civil Appeals held in a case of first impression in this state that driver license revocation periods run consecutively, and not concurrently. Therefore, the Department of Public Safety's method of "stacking" each license removal action into a consecutive period of license removal was valid.

Cancellation of Driver License: The annulment or termination by formal action of the Director of Public Safety of the person's driver license because of error or defect in the application process. (Generally, the applicant failed to disclose a pre-existing suspension or license removal action in another state and the Department of Public Safety did not discover this pre-existing condition until the National Driver Register issued notice to the license state.)

Driver License Compact (Existing): The Driver License Compact (DLC) is an interstate compact used to exchange information concerning license suspensions and traffic violations of non-residents and forward them to the state where the motorist is licensed, known as the home state. The home state will treat the offense as if it had been committed at home, applying home state laws to the out-of-state offense. 45 of the 50 states are members of the Driver License Compact.

Under the express terms of the Driver License Compact, the licensee's state (state of issuance) is required to take reciprocal action under the terms of the licensee's state law when receiving notice of violation taking place out of state. Alabama has been a member of the DLC since 1966. See, Code of Alabama, 1975, section 32-6-30 et seq.

Nonresident Violator Compact (Existing): The Non-Resident Violator Compact (NRVC) is an interstate compact used by 45 states to process traffic citations across state borders. Motorists cited for violations in a state that is not a member of the NRVC must post bail before being allowed to proceed. When a motorist is cited in another member state and does not to respond to the citation (such as failure to appear in court or settle the case prior to court), the state where the violation occurred notifies the driver's home state and the home state will suspend the driver's license until the driver settles the case in the other state. [The Non-Resident Violator Compact does not apply to registration, weight limit, and parking violations.]

Driver License Agreement (Proposed/Pending): The Driver License Agreement (DLA) is a new interstate compact written by the Joint Executive Board of the Driver License Compact (DLC) and the Non-Resident Violator Compact (NRVC) with staff support provided by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), a fifty state organization composed of motor vehicle and law enforcement administrators and executives.

The goals of the DLA are to require each state to honor licenses issued by other member states; to require each state to report traffic convictions to the licensing state; to prohibit a member state from confiscating an out-of-state driver's license or jailing an out-of-state driver for a minor violation; and to require each state to maintain a complete driver's history, including withdrawals and traffic convictions including non-DLA states.

When a DLA member state receives a report concerning a licensee from a non-DLA member state, the member state will be required to treat the report the same as if it came from a member state. As with the previous compacts, the DLA requires a state to post all out-of-state traffic convictions to the driver's record, and the home state must apply its own laws to all out-of-state convictions. The DLA allows other jurisdictions to access motor vehicle records, in accordance with the Drivers' Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) which will not apply to foreign countries, and to transfer the driver's history if the driver transfers his license.

National Driver Register: The National Driver Register (NDR) is a computerized database managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation of information about drivers who have had their licenses revoked or suspended or who have been convicted of serious traffic violations such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. State driver license agencies provide the NDR with the names of individuals who have lost their privilege or who have been convicted of a serious traffic violation.

Problem Driver Pointer System: The PDPS is used to search the National Driver Register (NDR). This is a repository of information on problem drivers provided by all 51 U.S. jurisdictions. Based on information received as a result of an NDR search, PDPS will "point" the inquiring jurisdiction to the State of Record, where an individual's driver status and history information is stored. In conjunction with the Commercial Driver License Information System (CDLIS), PDPS is intended to assist jurisdictions in the meeting the basic tenet "...that each driver, nationwide, have only one driver license and one record,"..

Administrative License Suspension Act: This section of law (also called "Administrative License Revocation" by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) is designed to quickly identify alcohol related traffic offenders based on chemical test results alone, and to subject the offender to prompt driver license suspension. Alabama's administrative license suspension act became effective in 1996 and was re-written, generally to the benefit of the licensee, in 1999. The current version of the Act has several overlapping and competing issues that deal with the prior enacted Implied Consent statute and the current DUI statute.

The intended purpose of the Administrative License Suspension Act is to promptly remove the driver license of the arrested subject by an informal, non-judicial administrative process, and in so doing, eliminate the incentive for the arrested motorist to delay license removal while waiting for the final disposition of a criminal trial.

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