What Are the Habitual Traffic Offender Laws in SC?

The consequences of having a court label you a habitual traffic offender in South Carolina can have a devastating impact on every part of your life. For many, this designation comes as a surprise. You may have a license one day and suddenly lose it the next, leaving no time to adjust.
A traffic defense attorney at Davis Curry Law in Charleston can help you understand the meaning of a habitual traffic offender charge and any possible defenses against it.

Who Is Considered a Habitual Traffic Offender in SC?

In short, committing three major traffic offenses within three years can result in an HTO charge. According to the South Carolina Code of Laws, Section 56-1-1020, a habitual offender is someone with a Department of Motor Vehicles record with offenses within three consecutive years and described in these subsections:
  • Subsection (a): Three or more separate or distinct offenses from different acts
  • Subsection (b): 10 or more convictions involving moving violations while in the operation of a motor vehicle
  • Subsection (c): Any offenses in sections (a) and (b) deemed federal crimes or violations of any law from another state, county or municipality
With any traffic violation reported to the DMV, the agency must review that person’s record. If the DMV determines that the person meets the requirements under Section 56-1-1020, the department must suspend or revoke that person’s driver’s license. Then they notify the person of this determination, letting them know they no longer have the right to operate a motor vehicle. They also expect the person to surrender their license to the department.

What Types of Traffic Violations Count Toward the HTO Charge?

What constitutes a “major” traffic violation? An occasional minor speeding ticket, meaning less than 10 miles per hour over the limit, should not place you on the DMV’s radar as a habitual offender. Instead, the department looks for more severe offenses, such as the following:
  • Voluntary or involuntary manslaughter committed as a result of how you operated a motor vehicle
  • Driving under the influence or driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration
  • Failing to stop for an accident that resulted in injury or death
  • Reckless driving
  • Reckless homicide committed as a result of operating a motor vehicle
Subsection (b) of South Carolina habitual offender laws mentions 10 or more moving violations. These can refer to “minor” traffic offenses occurring within three years. A minor violation will carry points against your license that can add up to warrant a suspension. For example, failing to stop at a traffic signal or going more than 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit is a minor offense.

Possible consequences

Status as a habitual offender lasts for five years in South Carolina, starting with the date listed on your notice of determination from the DMV. If caught driving during that period, you could face a prison sentence of up to five years. However, you can sometimes get your license back after only two years.
The DMV may restore your license after two years under these circumstances:
  • If you do not have a previous suspension as a habitual traffic offender in SC or another state
  • If you do not drive a motor vehicle during those two years of suspension
  • If you have no pending charges or convictions for alcohol or drug violations committed during your suspension
  • If you have no charges or convictions for any offenses listed under HTO laws during your suspension
  • If you do not have any other license suspension that is still active
Any violations during an HTO suspension could result in additional charges or an extension of your suspension. The worst-case scenario is that the department may completely revoke your privilege to operate a vehicle again. However, all you have to do to avoid that is to abide by the rules of your suspension until it ends.

How to get your license back in South Carolina

After completing a suspension as a habitual traffic violator, you can complete a reinstatement application to get your license back. This requires you to present proof of auto insurance and evidence that you complied with all conditions required by the DMV. Then you can submit all documents to DMV personnel, ensuring all information is accurate. When approved, you will receive verification from your local police agency stating that you can legally drive again.

Are There Acceptable Defenses for a Habitual Traffic Offender in SC?

If the DMV is wrong, you can challenge their decision. First, you may request a contested case hearing. During the hearing, you or your attorney can present evidence to a hearing officer from the Office of Motor Vehicles showing that the DMV made a mistake in revoking or suspending your license. In some cases, an attorney may argue to reduce the penalties.

A Habitual Traffic Violator Needs an Attorney

When you have questions about your potential status as a habitual traffic offender in South Carolina and what to do to restore your right to operate a vehicle, an attorney at Davis Curry Law can help. We can review your records, explain your rights and advise you on the next steps. To speak with a legal professional about your case, contact Davis Curry Law’s traffic defense lawyer in Charleston to request a consultation today.
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