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Why does the California DMV Suspend a Driver License for Syncope

Why is the California DMV concerned about Syncope? Simply stated, Syncope is the medical term used to define an episode of fainting.  Syncope is a sudden loss of consciousness that is often the result of a temporary loss of oxygen to the brain.  Syncope is usually a brief and temporary event that passes quickly and the person recovers with no ill side effects.

The most common form of syncope is Vasovagal Syncope. Vasovagal Syncope occurs when the part of your nervous system that regulates heart rate and blood pressure malfunctions in response to a trigger, such as the sight of blood.  Your heart rate slows and the blood vessels in your legs dilate.  This allows blood to pool in your legs, which lowers your blood pressure. The combination of the drop in blood pressure and slowed heart rate quickly reduce blood flow to your brain, and you faint.  Vasovagal Syncope is usually benign and can be caused by:

  • Standing for long periods of time.
  • Heat exposure
  • Seeing blood
  • Having blood drawn
  • Sudden fright
  • Fear of bodily injury
  • Straining, such as to have a bowel movement

On the other hand, Syncope can be a symptom of a much more serious medical disorder.  It may be caused by emotional stress, pain, pooling of blood in the legs due to sudden changes in body position, overheating, dehydration, heavy sweating or exhaustion. Syncope may occur during violent coughing spells (especially in men) because of rapid changes in blood pressure. It also may result from several heart, neurologic, psychiatric, metabolic and lung disorders. And it may be a side effect of some medicines.

There are several symptoms associated with Syncope:

  • Loss of consciousness or control
  • A feeling of heaviness in the legs
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Feeling warm or hot
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, a feeling of floating
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

The California Department of Motor Vehicles takes any episode of Syncope very seriously;  even when the episode does not occur while driving.  So even if you experience a fainting episode in the middle on Central Park and you were nowhere near a motor vehicle, the DMV will still be concerned.  The conventional wisdom is that IF you passed out in Central Park, you COULD pass out in a car.

The DMV will consider any episode of Syncope to be a Lapse of Consciousness or Control.  The DMV considers an episode of Syncope to be equally as dangerous as an epileptic seizure or losing consciousness from hypoglycemia.

How does the DMV learn I had an episode of Syncope?  To be frank, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has eyes and ears everywhere.  The DMV may learn that you suffered an episode of Syncope from a variety of sources; and once they know you had an episode, they are mandated by law to conduct an investigation to ensure you will not pass out while driving.Some of the most common sources that provide information to the DMV are:

Doctors: Under California Law, physicians are mandated to report any Lapse of Consciousness or Control; including syncope, to the California Department of Health.  In turn, that agency is mandated to report the event to the DMV.

Police Officers: Occasionally, police officers will encounter a person who has passed out and they will refer the matter to the DMV for investigation.

The Driver: That’s right…….. Occasionally drivers will “self-report” an event when they are filling out an application to apply for or renew a driver license.

Family members: It is common for family members to report a driver to the DMV if they feel the person’s episode or episodes may create a dangerous situation.

Neighbors and Friends:  Friends, acquaintances and neighbors all have the right to report any driver to the DMV for episodes of Syncope.

News Papers and Social Media:  DMV employees do read the newspaper and are on Facebook.  If they see information to suggest that a person suffered an episode of syncope, an investigation can be initiated.

Anonymous Sources:  It is quite common for the DMV to receive information from people who prefer to remain anonymous.

What will the DMV do if I suffered an episode of Syncope?  Generally speaking, the DMV’s reaction to the report that a person suffered an episode of Syncope will be dictated by how they received the report.

Immediate Suspension:If the DMV received the information that you suffered an episode of Syncope from a Physician, it is likely the DMV will conduct an immediate suspension of your driving privilege.  It is thought that a doctor is able to identify syncope as a medical disorder and, therefore, the DMV considers the issue to pose an immediate hazard to the public. If the DMV goes to immediate suspension of your driver license for an event of Syncope, they must notify you in writing that they have suspended your driver license and must also explain that you are entitled to an administrative hearing to fight the suspension.

Re-Examination: If the DMV received the information that you suffered an episode of Syncope from a source other than a physician, it is likely you will receive notification that the DMV wants you to participate in an investigation of the event, so they can determine your fitness to drive. The DMV’s investigation is known as a “Re-Examination.”  If you do not participate in the Re-Examination as ordered, or if you do not present yourself well, the DMV will suspend your driver license and then you become eligible for a hearing.

How can I protect myself if the DMV is suspending my license for Syncope?  First of all, you should be crystal clear that the DMV does not have any concern about your need to drive.  Secondly, be aware that everything the DMV does is time-sensitive.  If you do not take the DMV seriously and if you do not react quickly, the department will suspend your driver license without a second thought.  Also, the DMV is not known for being kind and they are not generous with information.  Information is the key to success with the DMV. If you have received notification from the California Department of Motor Vehicles that they have initiated an investigation of you, or if they have gone to immediate suspension; call the DMV Defense Experts at California Drivers Advocates.  We may be able to help you with just a few minutes on the telephone.  You may not have to spend a dime to protect yourself; however, if your case requires the work of an expert; we’re your team.

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Video transcript: Hi. My name is Rob Collier. I am the President and CEO of California Drivers Advocates. Today I’d like to talk to you about a medical term called Syncope, and why the DMV will suspend a person’s driver’s license, if you’ve had such an event. Syncope, basically to cut to the chase, is an episode of fainting or passing out. Most often, Syncope is vasovagal. In other words, Vasovagal Syncope. This can be caused by prolonged standing, heat exposure, dehydration, seeing blood, having your blood drawn.

Any number of things can cause a person’s blood pressure to drop, their pulse rate to drop, and they just lose consciousness. And that’s the key element, Syncope means that you have lost consciousness or control, and those are key words for the California DMV. The DMV is concerned about a person who suffers Syncope, even if the event didn’t occur while driving, because the reality is such an event could occur while driving. So the DMV’s concern is about what could potentially happen. Now obviously, if you had an Syncopal event while driving, and you crash your car, that’s self evident. But the DMV will also go after a person who has had an event of Syncope in a park.

So the reality is that the DMV is looking forward to the potential outcomes of what could occur if you have an event and you crash your car. If you have received an order of suspension or revocation, because you have had a lapse of consciousness, related to Syncope, don’t be alarmed. Yes, you’re being taken off the road, Yes, your freedom of movement is being temporarily restrained But you can win these hearings. They can be won. I have been doing it for 20 years, and I can tell you that, done correctly, You can get yourself back on the road. So if you have any questions, just give us a call, or take a look at our website. Thank you very much.

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