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California DMV License Suspension for Epilepsy

Why is the DMV concerned about drivers with Epilepsy?  We all know the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) as the government agency granted the power to issue driver licenses to operate motor vehicles in the State of California.  What many people don’t realize is that the DMV is equally empowered to suspend or revoke the driver license of any person if the department believes there is cause to do so.

One of the primary reasons the DMV will suspend or revoke a person’s driving privilege is if that person suffers a Lapse of Consciousness or Control.  Anything that causes a person to faint, suffer an episode of syncope, suffer a seizure or experience any episode that affects their ability to properly function is a concern for the DMV.  Also, DMV is not only focused upon episodes that occur while driving.  ANY episode of a Lapse of Consciousness is good cause to take a driver off the road.  So if the DMV learns that a licensed driver has suffered a seizure while sitting on a beach in Malibu, they will initiate an investigation to determine if that event affects the person’s ability to safely drive.

One of the most common medical ailments used by the DMV to suspend or revoke a person’s privilege to drive is EpilepsyEpilepsy is a chronic brain disorder that causes unprovoked, sometimes severe seizures.  Most people with epilepsy will suffer with one or both of the following type of seizure:

  • Primary Generalized Seizure:

Primary generalized seizures begin with a widespread electrical discharge that involves both sides of the brain at once. Hereditary factors are important in many of these seizures.

  • Partial Seizure:

Partial seizures begin with an electrical discharge in one limited area of the brain. Many different things can cause partial seizures. These include head injury, brain infection, stroke, tumor, or changes in the way an area of the brain was formed before birth (called cortical dysplasia).  Many times, no known cause is found, but genetic factors may be important in some partial seizures.  Partial seizures can be broken down further, depending on whether a person’s awareness or consciousness (the ability to respond and remember) is affected.

Many people with epilepsy will have more than one type of seizure and may have other symptoms of neurological problems as well.  The human brain is the source of human epilepsy.  Although the symptoms of a seizure may affect any part of the body, the electrical events that the produce the seizure occur in the brain.  The location of the event in the brain, how it spreads and how much of the brain is affected all have profound effects on the person.  Suffering seizures can also have an effect on a person’s safety, relationships, career and ability to safely control a motor vehicle.

The DMV’s concern is obvious.  If a person suffers a seizure, lapse of consciousness, or a loss of control of their body while driving, they pose a very real danger to themselves and others.

How does the DMV learn that I have Epilepsy?  The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is deeply wired into the fabric of our society and may receive information regarding a person’s physical or mental health from a variety of sources:

  • Law Enforcement Officer: The DMV will often receive information from a law enforcement officer who has come into contact with an epileptic driver at the scene of a traffic accident or other enforcement scenario.
  • Physicians: California Law actually mandates that a physician report any physical or mental issue to the DMV if it could affect that person’s ability to drive.  Most often, doctors will report a driver to the DMV when they learn he/she has suffered an epileptic seizure or any lapse of consciousness or control.
  • Family members: It is not unusual for a family member to report an epileptic driver to the DMV because of their concern that their loved one’s epilepsy makes them unsafe to drive.
  • Driver Self Reporting: That’s right………. it often occurs that a driver will bring themselves under scrutiny of the DMV.  This most often occurs when a person who is apply for an original driver license, or a driver who is seeking to renew their license, checks a block on an application form that alerts the DMV to a diagnosis of epilepsy.
  • Anonymous Sources: At times, the DMV will receive a “tip” from an anonymous source that a driver suffers with epilepsy and may not be safe to drive. Even though the source of the information may not be known; and even though the validity of the information may be questionable, the DMV is still mandated to investigate.

How does the DMV evaluate a driver with Epilepsy? Remember, it is the DMV’s primary function to ensure the driving safety of all drivers on California’s roadways.  If the DMV receives information that a driver has developed epilepsy or has suffered an epileptic seizure, the department will either order the driver to participate in a re-examination interview or they may advance directly to an “immediate” Order of Suspension/Revocation.  Normally an immediate order of suspension occurs following a law enforcement contact or after receiving notification from a physician that an event involving epilepsy has occurred that may pose an immediate hazard to the public.

Re-Examination Interview If the DMV receives information from any source that a person has been diagnosed with epilepsy or has suffered a seizure or lapse of consciousness or control that may affect safe driving, the department will send the driver a “Notice of Re-Examination” Appointment.  If the driver fails to respond to the letter and does not participate in the re-examination, their driver license will be suspended or revoked.

Contained within the same envelope will be a five-page medical report to be prepared and signed by the person’s physician.  Known as a Driver Medical Evaluation (DME), this is the primary piece of medical evidence recognized by the DMV to evaluate the medical stability of any driver. When the Re-Examination “Interview” occurs, the assigned hearing officer will review all relevant evidence and will interview the affected driver.  At the end of the re-examination interview, the hearing officer may:

-Terminate any further action.

-Place the person on medical probation.

-Suspend or revoke the driver license.

If a re-examination interview results in a suspension/revocation of the driver license, the affected driver is then entitled to conduct a full-blown evidentiary hearing to reverse the decision.  Known as a Physical and Mental hearing (P & M hearing), these are complicated legal proceedings that are similar to a mini-trial.

Immediate Suspension:  If the DMV receives information from any source which suggests that a diabetic driver poses an immediate hazard to the safety of the public, it will issue an immediate Order of Suspension/Revocation.  This normally occurs when a driver has suffered a suffered a seizure, lapse of consciousness or any other loss of control that may immediately affect a person’s ability to drive.
If a driver receives an immediate “Order of Suspension/Revocation” in the mail, the re-examination interview is bypassed and the driver becomes immediately eligible for an administrative hearing.  The immediate Order of Suspension or Revocation normally occurs following a law enforcement contact; or when the DMV receives a Confidential Morbidity Report from a physician that suggests the motoring public may be placed in immediate jeopardy if the driver is not taken off the road.

Here again, if the DMV proceeds directly to a suspension/revocation, the accused driver becomes immediately eligible to conduct an administrative hearing.  Known as a Physical and Mental Hearing, this is a full-blown evidentiary hearing where evidence is presented, witnesses may testify, experts may offer opinions, and legal arguments are heard.  This is a complex legal process that should only be conducted by professionals in the field.

If the DMV has suspended my driver license for Epilepsy, what can I do?  Whether your case requires a Re-Examination Interview or a Physical and Mental Hearing; information is the key to success.  Call the DMV Defense Experts at California Drivers Advocates (CDA).  We have been conducting every type of administrative hearing before the DMV for many years.  We know what they do and we know how to fight back. If your case requires a Re-Examination Interview, we’ll simply tell you how to prepare and what to do.  If your case requires a full Physical and Mental Hearing, we’ll be ready to jump into your case.  There are virtually thousands of people in California who live with epilepsy.  Those unfortunate soles deserve to live quality lives and they deserve to drive it can be determine that their medical condition is stable.

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