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What is a DMV Hearing Officer

The Division of Driver Safety

All drivers recognize the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) as the government agency where we go to apply for a driver license or to register our cars.  What few people realize however, is the broad power the DMV also has to strip a person of their driving privilege.  Within the ranks of the DMV is an enforcement division empowered to suspend driver licenses, reinstate driver licenses or restrict driver licenses.  Known as the Division of Driver Safety, this enforcement arm has the power to literally remove a person’s privilege to drive with little or no cause.

Some of the most common reasons for the Division of Driver Safety to suspend or revoke a person’s driving privilege are:

  • Driving under the influence of Alcohol
  • Under age drivers violating zero tolerance
  • Violation of Financial Responsibility Laws
  • Fraudulent Activity
  • Too many violation points
  • Too many accidents
  • Lack of Skill, Road Rage
  • Lack of Knowledge
  • Medical or physical disorders
  • Mental or psychiatric disorders
  • Habitual use or addiction issues
  • Conviction of certain crimes
  • Serious injury or fatality accidents

In most cases, Driver Safety Offices are housed in stand-alone buildings located regionally throughout the state.  In some instances, however, small “satellite” offices are also located within regular field offices.  Click here for more information on the locations of Driver Safety Offices in California.

What is the role of a DMV Hearing Officer?

If the California DMV is acting to suspend or revoke a person’s driving privilege, it is an invasive government intrusion into the life of the affected driver.  The loss of the driving privilege will certainly mean the loss of the person’s driving freedom, but it can also mean the loss of a person’s job, for example if a UPS driver is stripped of his driver license, he’s out of work.  In nearly every instance where the DMV is working to remove a person from the road, the accused driver has a right to Due Process.  In some rare instances, the suspension of the driving privilege is a mandatory function of law, but in most cases, the accused driver can fight to protect themselves.

If an accused driver elects to defend their privilege to drive, they must schedule, conduct and prevail at a DMV administrative hearing conducted before the Department of Motor Vehicles, Division of Driver Safety.  The Driver Safety Office, more commonly referred to as a “DSO” is a branch of the DMV set up to conduct these administrative hearings.  The DMV administrative hearings are full-blown legal proceedings where evidence is introduced, witnesses and experts may testify and where legal arguments are heard.  The DMV official who sits in judgement at these hearings is known as a “Hearing Officer.”

In California, DMV Hearing Officers are not judges; they are simply a DMV employee with an enormous amount of power.  The Department of Motor Vehicles will say that DMV Hearing Officers are autonomous officials who work independent of the controls of their supervisors.  It is said that hearing officers are the DMV equivalent of a Superior Court Judge who are independent Triers of Fact.  The reality, however, is that DMV Hearing Officers are government employees with government supervisors who expect them to issue and sustain driver license suspensions.  There should be no mistake that hearing officers are not intended to be a friend of the accused driver.

The role of the DMV Hearing Officer is to preside over hearings, interviews and reexaminations.   They issue legal rulings, review and interpret documents and make findings and decisions as to the driving privilege of accused drivers.  Make no mistake; DMV Hearing Officers hold one of the most powerful positions in government that affect citizens on a day to day basis.

Even though DMV Hearing Officers are not judges, they still exercise complete control over a person’s driving freedom.  Even though DMV Hearing Officers are not members of the California Bar Association, they still make legal decisions and issue administrative orders that often impact drivers in a very negative way.  Many times hearing officers are intimidating, rude and dismissive.  It is rare to find a hearing officer who is anything more than distant, arrogant and accusatory.

Dealing with a DMV Hearing Officer can be a practice in futility unless one is represented by a DMV Defense Expert with many years of experience.  The administrative advocates from California Drivers Advocates have been dealing with DMV Hearing Officers throughout the State of California for decades.  We know the attitudes and expectations of hearing officers from Redding to San Diego.  Knowing the people in positions of power and knowing the system in which they work is a key to our success.