What does the California DMV identify as a Mental Health Disorder?
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that all drivers in the state maintain an adequate level of skill and knowledge in order to safely operate a motor vehicle. Additionally, the DMV is equally concerned that all California drivers maintain a proper level of Physical and Mental health to demonstrate their fitness to drive.
While issues of Mental Health are profoundly private and should remain confidential between a patient and their doctor, the DMV will conduct an investigation into any suggestion that a driver suffers with a Mental Health disorder that may affect their ability to drive. Some of the primary categories of Mental Health that will cause concern for the DMV are: Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar Disorder, Anxiety, Depression and or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
While many of these conditions can be controlled by the use of medications and therapy, the DMV will seek to ensure that any driver diagnosed with such a disorder can demonstrate their condition is stable and does not affect driving. The DMV will also be concerned if the use of prescription medication may impair the person while driving.
How does the DMV find out I have a Mental Health disorder?
The California Department of Motor Vehicles is deeply wired into the fabric of our society. The department may receive information that a driver has been diagnosed with a mental disorder from a variety of sources, such as:
- Law enforcement officers who learn of a mental health issue while contacting a driver;
- Medical professionals who discover an issue;
- Friends who believe the person is not safe to drive
- Family who believes the person should stop driving
- Individual drivers who unwittingly reveal too much about themselves to the DMV.
- Anonymous tipsters
What action will the DMV take if I have a Mental Health disorder?
The answer to this question can be somewhat confusing. Depending upon the source of the information and the nature of the allegation, the DMV may take any of the following action:
- Take no action
- Direct the driver to participate in the Re-Examination process.
- Suspend the driver license and offer the person the right to a hearing.
No Action – If the DMV determines there is insufficient evidence to cause concern, they may elect to close the case and no further action is required. It has been the policy of the California DMV to conduct some level of investigation into any report of Mental Health issues, so it is highly unlikely that the DMV will take no action.
Re-Examination – The next level of action occurs when the DMV sends a person a “Notice of Re-Examination Appointment.” This is a letter the driver receives in the mail which requires the driver to appear at a DMV office for an “interview.” As part of the Re-Examination process, the DMV may require the driver to take a written test, a vision test and a driving test. At the very least, the driver will be interviewed to determine if there is cause for concern. If the assigned DMV Hearing Officer determines there is no cause for concern, he or she may end the action and close the case. On the other hand, if the Hearing Officer determines there is the slightest chance that a person’s Mental Health disorder affects their ability to drive, the license will be suspended and the person is then eligible for a hearing.
Hearing – If the DMV has either moved directly to suspension, or if the license has been suspended following a Re-Examination, the effected driver is entitled to an Administrative Hearing to rebut the DMV’s evidence and to reverse their decision. A DMV Administrative Hearing is a complicated and often confusing process that is run much like a mini trial. At such a hearing, evidence is introduced, witnesses may testify and experts may offer opinions.
When the Administrative Hearing ends, the assigned hearing officer will either close the case and return the person to driving, or they will order the continued suspension or revocation of the driver license.
What can I do to protect myself?
If you have received a “Notice of Re-Examination Appointment” or an “Order of Suspension/Revocation” in the mail, do not despair. There are thousands of people driving in California today with a myriad of medical problems ranging from Epilepsy and Diabetes to Bi-Polar disorder and anxiety. Remember, you are entitled to defend yourself. You are entitled to demonstrate that you are safe to drive and we can help you do that.
Call the DMV Defense experts at California Drivers Advocates for a free assessment of your case. At the very least, we can provide you with good information. If necessary, we can step into the case and protect your rights.