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DMV Driver License after a Fatal Traffic Accident

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Why does the DMV revoke a driver license after a fatal traffic accident?   Without question, the single most devastating event that can occur during the operation of a motor vehicle is a traffic collision where someone loses their life.  Known as a fatality traffic accident, the devastation is far reaching.  Of course a human being has lost their life, but the pain suffered by surviving friends and family can be indescribable.

If you have been involved in a traffic accident where another person has died, you’ll be dealing with your own emotions over the trauma of the incident.  That can be compounded by the fact that involvement in such an incident can also result in criminal prosecution by the courts and/or the suspension of your driving privilege by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Whenever the California DMV receives information that a fatal traffic accident has occurred, it will conduct a review of the facts and may suspend or revoke the driving privilege any driver who may have “caused or contributed to” the death.  This is a very loosely applied standard and even if a driver is not primarily at fault, they can lose their driver license if they contributed to the incident.

Example:  A mother is driving on a two lane highway when she attempts to pass a slower moving vehicle.  During the process of passing the vehicle, she allows the speed of her own vehicle to slightly exceed the posted speed limit.  As she nearly completes the passing maneuver, one of the tires on her car blows out and she leaves the roadway; rolls over and one of her children is killed.

This is an absolutely horrible tale, but it is based on a true case that we handled.  When the DMV received the traffic accident report from the California Highway Patrol, it was clear that the primary cause of the accident was the tread separation of a tire.  However, when the DMV recognized that the mother had allowed her vehicle to exceed the speed limit, the department moved to revoke her driver license.  This seems like a complete abuse of power following a devastating loss, but it is permitted by the law.

What permits the DMV to revoke a driver license following a fatal traffic accident?  Following a fatal traffic accident, a driver will learn that the DMV intends to suspend or revoke their driver license when they open an unexpected envelope from the California DMV.  The DMV notifies a driver of the intended suspension/revocation of their license by sending an order that is entitled: ORDER OF SUSPENSION/REVOCATION or NEGLIGENT OPERATOR/VIOLATION OF PROBATION.

Within the body of the letter, the DMV will justify the suspension/revocation of the driver license by claiming the driver “caused or contributed to” a fatal accident. Essentially, the DMV will determine that because you caused or contributed to the death of another person, you must be a Negligent Operator and therefore cannot be trusted to drive on our public roadways. California Vehicle Code Section 13953, determines that:

            “If upon investigation or re-examination the department determines that the safety of the person subject to the investigation, or other persons upon the highway, require such action; the department shall forthwith and with 30 days written notice suspend or revoke the driving privilege of the person affected…”

Fortunately, the Vehicle Code does permit an accused driver to request an Administrative Hearing to demonstrate why the suspension or revocation is not warranted.  Known as a fatality hearing, this is one of the most complicated of all Administrative Hearings conducted by the DMV.

What happens at a DMV Fatality Hearing?  Properly conducted, a Fatality Hearing at the DMV is a full-blown evidentiary hearing that is run much like a mini-trial.  Evidence is presented, witnesses may testify, experts may offer opinions and legal arguments are heard.  These hearings are run much like a mini-trial. There are many elements that go into the proper handling of a fatality hearing.  Some of the most critical things to consider are:

  • The timely request for a hearing. Generally, the DMV will only permit a driver 14 days to request a hearing or they lose that right.
  • Proper collection of the DMV’s evidence.
  • Proper investigation of the facts which may include a scene inspection, vehicle inspection, witness interviews, collection of records and documents and a review by expert witnesses.
  • Proper preparation for the hearing. There are time sensitive requirements in how a case is prepare and how the DMV is notified of affirmative evidence.
  • Preparing the driver for testimony. A driver must be prepared to endure both direct and cross-examination.
  • Proper conduct of the hearing. Knowledge of the Vehicle Code, the Evidence Code, the Administrative Procedures Act, the California Government Code and scores of case law is vital.
  • Proper follow-up. Once the hearing is concluded, there must be proper follow-up to ensure the driver’s privilege is reinstated quickly and properly.

The DMV Defense Experts at California Drivers Advocates have been conducting Fatality Hearings at the DMV for many years.  Our team of former police officers, former DMV hearing officers, licensed investigators and scientists all work as one cohesive unit to create a robust defense.  If the DMV is seeking to suspend or revoke your driver license following the trauma of a fatality traffic accident, you don’t have to face them alone.  Call the experts at California Drivers Advocates.  We’ll drop everything to step into your case.

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