Why does the DMV suspend a driver license for medical conditions?
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is the government agency tasked with ensuring that all applicants for the California Driver License possess the skill, the knowledge, and the Physical/Mental fitness to drive. Once the DMV grants a person the privilege to drive, however, the department then switches to a mode of monitoring the driver. The department will take an action to suspend or revoke a person’s driving privilege if they receive any information that suggests a person no longer possesses the knowledge or the skill to drive. The DMV will also initiate the suspension or revocation of the driving privilege if they receive information to suggest that person has developed any medical condition or disorder that can affect their ability to drive.
The DMV’s primary concern is that a driver’s medical condition or disorder may affect their physical control of a motor vehicle. The DMV is equally concerned however, when a person’s treatment of a medical condition may affect their ability to drive. For example, prescription medications legitimately taken to treat a medical condition may impair that person’s ability to drive. Essentially any medical condition, or the treatment thereof, that can endanger the safety of the motoring public will be a concern for the DMV.
What type of medical conditions are a concern for the DMV?
The DMV is not limited in its ability to investigate medical conditions. The basic truth is the DMV will be concerned about ANY medical, physical, or mental ailment or disorder that could impact the public safety. Some of the more common issues that cause a DMV suspension are:
- Lapse of Consciousness or Control (whether driving or not)
- Epilepsy or Seizure Disorder
- Neuropathy in the hands or feet
- Brain tumors
- Cardiac or Cardio-vascular Disorders
- Kidney or Liver Disorders
- Sleep Apnea or other Sleep Disorders
- Pulmonary Disorders
- Parkinson’s Disease or tremors
- Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, or Cognitive Decline
- Addiction or habitual use of drugs, medications, or alcohol
- Problems with vision
- Problems with hearing
- Migraine headaches
- Mental Health Disorders such Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia
- Cerebral Palsy
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Side effects of surgery
- Side effects of prescription medication
- Effects from Failure to Take Medication as prescribed
Safely operating a motor vehicle requires a driver to have extraordinary control of a variety of medical, physical and mental faculties. Driving requires the ability to “multi-task” at every moment. Therefore, any medical, physical, or mental disorder that could impact one’s ability to do so, is fair game for the DMV.
It is understood that drivers should be allowed to continue to drive as long as possible provided there is a reasonable expectation that they can safely operate a vehicle. Only when an individual poses an imminent threat to public safety should their driving privilege be withdrawn or restricted. The driving privilege may be restored when the individual’s condition becomes stable or returns to a state where their mental and physical capability allows them to operate a vehicle safely. Simply having a disease is not sufficient cause for the DMV to withdraw the driving privilege. The disease must affect that person visually, physically, or cognitively in a manner that jeopardizes public safety. These medical guidelines are based upon research and a best practices approach toward determining whether an individual is capable of driving safely.
How does the DMV learn I have a Medical Disorder?
The California DMV really is hard-wired into the very fabric of our society. Combine that with the technological age we live in and you’ll see the DMV may receive unfavorable medical information from a variety of sources. Some examples are:
- Physicians and Surgeons: California Law actually mandates that any Physician or Surgeon who learns that a person, over the age of 14, suffers with any medical, physical or mental disorder that could potentially impact driving must report that person or risk the law of their Medical License.
Health & Safety Code Section 103900(a) determines:
“Every physician and surgeon shall report immediately to the local health officer in writing, the name, date of birth, and address of every patient at least 14 years of age or older whom the physician and surgeon has diagnosed as having a case of a disorder characterized by lapses of consciousness.”
Once the “local health officer” has received the physician’s report, he/she is mandated to forward that report to the California DMV and then the DMV is mandated to begin an investigation.
- Other Medical Professionals: Nurse practitioners, Physicians Assistants, Nurses, or Paramedics may refer a person to the DMV.
- Law Enforcement Officers: Because Law Enforcement Officers are very often the first emergency personnel at accidents or other events, they may learn of a medical disorder that they feel the DMV should review.
- Family Members: The DMV frequently receives information from family members who are concerned about the safety of their loved one and how their medical disorder may affect their ability to drive. Care must be taken to identify those family members who may make false reports to the DMV out of retaliation, anger, or spite.
- Friends, Co-Workers or Neighbors: Here again, the DMV will investigate a report from any source regarding a person’s fitness to drive. And, again, great care should be exercised to ensure the validity of any such report.
- Drivers who self-report: That’s right………… At times a driver will inadvertently report themselves to the DVM. This happens most often when a person is applying for their first driver license, or when an existing driver is applying to renew their license. The form used to apply for, or renew a license will specifically for information regarding your medical history. If you admit having a medical disorder, this will cause an investigation.
- DMV Staff Members: It often occurs that a person’s medical conditions are discovered by a DMV staff member. This usually occurs when a driver has appeared at a DMV Field Office to take care of some form of business (renewing a license, registering a car, taking a written test) and is observed by a DMV employee doing or saying something that leads the department to believe they cannot safely drive.
- Social Media: We live in a world inundated by social media. It is not uncommon for a DMV employee to be on their days off and accidentally come across a social media post that suggests a person may not be safe to drive. That DMV employee may report their observations to their supervisor and an investigation may be initiated.
- Anonymous Tipster: Because California Law mandates that the DMV investigate any report of a driver who may have a medical disorder that may affect safe driving, they also must investigate reports received from “anonymous tipsters.” Also, the DMV will work to protect the identity of the tipster. This type of report should face the toughest scrutiny to ensure the information is true and correct.
How will the DMV investigate a report that I have a Medical Disorder?
As stated above, the DMV is under a legal mandate to thoroughly investigate any report that a licensed driver, or an applicant for a driver license, is afflicted with a medical, physical or mental disorder that impacts their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. To be blunt, the DMV has no choice…… they must conduct some form of an investigation in the interest of public safety.
When the department receives this type of information, it has two options on how to proceed:
- Conduct a Reexamination of the person’s ability to drive
- Suspend or deny the driver license and offer the person an opportunity to defend themselves
The California Vehicle Code empowers the DMV to conduct a reexamination of a person’s fitness to drive and also permits the DMV to suspend or refuse a driver license if the person refuses or fails to complete the process.
California Vehicle Code Section 13801, determines:
“In addition to any investigation, the department may require the reexamination of the licensee, and shall give 10 days’ written notice of time and place thereof. If the licensee refuses or fails to submit to the reexamination, the department may peremptorily suspend the driving privilege of the person until such time as the licensee shall have submitted to reexamination. The suspension shall be effective upon notice.
The reexamination process is comprised of several steps that must be completed. If any step is failed, the DMV will suspend or refuse the driving privilege. The only real benefit to a reexamination is that the person’s driving privilege remains valid while they work their way through the process. The steps involved in a reexamination may include a portion or all of the following:
- Notice of Reexamination: The Driver Safety Office closest to the person’s home will mail a “Notice of Reexamination” to that person. It will specify why the action is being taken. The notice will either schedule a date by which the person is to file medical paperwork with the department or, depending on the facts, may assign a date/time for an interview. If the DMV is demanding that medical evidence be filed, Driver Medical Evaluation (DME) will be enclosed. The accused driver must file the medical paperwork with the DMV no later than the scheduled date or the case will be closed and the license will be suspended.
- Filing Medical Evidence: If the DMV has demanded the filing of medical evidence, the licensee must take the Driver Medical Evaluation (DME) to the physician most familiar with their medical history and have it filled out in its entirety. The licensee must then deliver the DME to the Driver Safety Office by hand-delivery, fax or mail.
- Reexamination Interview: Once the driver has provided the requisite evidence, a DMV Hearing Officer will review the material and the case file. He/she will make a determination of there is sufficient information to close the file or will send the licensee a “Notice of Reexamination Interview that sets a time and date for a telephone interview.
At the time and date of the interview, the DMV Hearing Officer will telephone the licensee to conduct the interview The hearing officer will go “ on the record” and then identify the nature of the allegation against the driver. The Hearing Officer will introduce any evidence to be considered and then will begin a thorough examination of the licensee. The accused person should be prepared for extensive questioning regarding the event that brought them to the department’s attention There will be extensive questions about medical history, medical disorders, treatments, medications and the current status of medical disorders. It is definitely in the licensee’s best interest to retain the services of a DMV Defense Expert to assist them in preparing for their interview and the examination of the hearing officer
- Vision Testing: Depending on the nature of the allegation or from who the allegation was received, the DMV Hearing Officer may schedule the licensee to appear at a local DMV Field Office for vision testing.
- Written Testing: Depending on the nature of the allegation or from who the allegation was received, the DMV Hearing may schedule the licensee to appear at a local DMV Field Office to take a written test of their knowledge of the rules of the road. The test is a 25-question (multiple choice) examination that tests a person’s basic knowledge of driving laws and the ability to identify road signs. The licensee is permitted to miss up to ?? questions to have a passing score.
- Drive Testing: Depending upon the nature of the allegation from who the allegation was received, the DMV Hearing Officer may schedule the licensee to appear at a local DMV Field Office to take a “behind-the-wheel” driving test to demonstrate thy have the skill to drive.
Decision: Once the reexamination is complete, the Hearing Officer must make a final decision. The Hearing Officer may:
1.) Close the case with no further action. The driving privilege remains intact.
2.) Suspend or revoke the driving privilege.
If the DMV Hearing Officer’s decision is to close the case with no further action, the driver has successfully navigated the reexamination process and matter is at an end. However, if the decision is not favorable and the Hearing Officer believes the person’s medical disorder effects their ability to drive, the driving privilege will be suspended. Although this is not good news, all is not lost. Upon receipt of an Order of Suspension or Revocation, the licensee becomes immediately eligible to request a full-blown administrative hearing to reverse the suspension.
The California Vehicle Code empowers the DMV to suspend or revoke a person’s privilege to drive for any reason that is necessary to protect the individual or the general public.
California Vehicle Code Section 13953, determines:
“In the alternative to the procedure under Sections 13950, 13951, and 13952 and in the event the department determines upon investigation or reexamination that the safety of the person subject to investigation or other persons on the highways require such action, the department shall forthwith and without hearing suspend or revoke the privilege of the person to operate a motor vehicle or impose reasonable terms and conditions of probation which shall be relative to the safe operation of a motor vehicle. No order of suspension or revocation or the imposition of the terms of or conditions of probation shall become effective until 30 days after the giving of written notice thereof to the person affected, except that the department shall have authority to make such order effective immediately the giving of notice when in its opinion because of the mental or physical condition of the person such immediate action is required for the safety of the driver or other persons upon the highways.”
So, essentially there are three reasons the Department may suspend or revoke a person’s privilege to drive:
• If the suspension or revocation is mandatory as a result of a DUI or criminal conviction that mandates the suspension or revocation.
• If the driver fails to participate in or complete a reexamination as ordered by the department.
• If, as part of a reexamination, the driver fails a vision test.
• If, as part of a reexamination, the driver fails a written test.
• If, as part of a reexamination, the driver fails a driving test.
• If, at the conclusion of a reexamination the Hearing Officer concludes suspension or revocation of the driving privilege is necessary in the interest of public safety.
• If, upon receipt of unfavorable information, the department concludes immediate suspension or revocation is necessary in the interest of public safety.
Except in those cases where the suspension or revocation of a person’s driving privilege is mandated by law, a driver is eligible to request an administrative hearing to reverse the department’s decision to suspend or revoke the privilege to drive. In contrast to the reexamination process, the person’s privilege to drive remains suspended or revoked while they work to reverse the action.
When a driver receives an “Order of Suspension/Revocation” in the mail, this is not a warning that the department may suspend the license. This is notification the department has already initiated the suspension/revocation process. It is already underway. Fortunately, California Law does permit an accused driver to request an administrative hearing. Once the person’s driving privilege has been suspended, the only way to reverse the action is through such a hearing. Licenses are not reinstated simply through a passage of time. This type of suspension will remain in effective forever or until the driver takes the steps to reverse such an action.
How do I request an Administrative Hearing for a Medical Condition?
As stated earlier, if you have received an “Order of Suspension/Revocation” the California DMV has just notified you they have initiated the process to remove you from the road. When you receive this order, it is common to experience a series of emotions that range from shock and disbelief to anger and fear. That’s normal. Once those initial emotions have passed, however, it is time to go to work.
First of all, take the time to read the order carefully. The Order of Suspension will provide important details:
• The order will tell you that your privilege to operate a motor vehicle is being suspended or revoked.
• The order will tell you the date the order was written.
• The order will tell you the effective date of the suspension/revocation. You must not drive after that date.
• The order will tell you reason the action is being taken.
• The order will tell you the Vehicle Code Section that permits the DMV to take the action.
• The order will advise you of your right to an administrative hearing to reverse the action.
Once you have carefully absorbed the information contained within the order, it is time to decide what action you intend to take and how do you intend to proceed. Your options are:
Take no Action: In some cases, a driver may agree with the order. This may be the person whose medical condition is permanent and stationary and the driver agrees that he/she should not be driving. In this case, the only action required is for the driver to surrender his/her driver license to a local DMV Field Office and to then apply for a California Identification Card. Other than relinquishing their privilege to drive, the person is in no jeopardy by taking no action. Also, if the medical condition were to improve in the future, the person may always reopen the matter and ask to be granted a hearing.
Request a Hearing without Representation: In some cases, a driver may wish to contest the DMV’s action by scheduling a hearing on their own and fighting the DMV without representation. In this case, the person is on their own and must educate themselves very quickly in the Law and DMV protocol. While California Law does permit an accused driver to represent themselves, the Administrative Hearing can be complicated, unkind and frustrating.
If you have decided to represent yourself, you must be aware of the time-sensitive nature in requesting a hearing. You must contact the Driver Safety Office (DSO) closest to your home within the time frame required by law. You must schedule your hearing, request Discovery and begin the process of defending yourself.
Request a Hearing with the aid of your Advocate: In some cases, an accused driver may wish to contest the DMV’s action and decide to seek professional representation to assist them. If this is your choice, you should contact the DMV Defense Experts at California Driver Advocates We have represented hundreds of clients in every Driver Safety Office in the State.
Once you have engaged us as your representatives, we will request your hearing and begin the process of getting you back on the road. Let us deal with the DMV Let us deal with the law, the process and the frustration of the administrative hearing
California Drivers Advocates (CDA) is an administrative law group devoted exclusively to representing California drivers at license suspension hearings before the California DMV. With decades of experience, we have seen every game played by the DMV and we know how to protect you. You should never permit the DMV to steal your driving freedom without a fight and yu should not fight the DMV on your own. Call CDA today and we will schedule your hearing and lead you through the fight.
A simple phone call will bring you under our umbrella of protection. Call CDA today.