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What to Expect from a DMV Hearing Officer

What is a DMV Hearing Officer?

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is an enormous government agency empowered by the California Legislature to regulate and control the actions of any person who operates a motor vehicle within the State of California. The DMV is divided into a series of Divisions that focus on specific aspects of motor vehicle operation ranging from licensing of drivers to the registration of vehicles.

One of the most prominent divisions within the DMV is the LICENSING OPERATIONS DIVISION.  Deep within this division is an enforcement arm known as the DRIVER SAFETY OFFICE.  More commonly known as the “DSO” this office is divided into numerous branch offices scattered throughout the State of California.  These offices are located from Redding to San Diego and normally serve large geographical areas.

The Driver Safety Office is the DMV’s version of a courthouse.  This is where the department convenes administrative hearings to determine the fitness of a person to drive in California.  These administrative hearings are run much like a mini trial where evidence is introduced, experts may offer opinions, witnesses testify and legal arguments are heard.  The DMV employee who presides over administrative hearings holds the title of Driver Safety Hearing Officer.  A Hearing Officer is referred to an independent “Trier of Fact.”  They preside over these proceedings to review evidence and testimony, make and rule on objections, and render decisions on the driving future of citizens who come before them.  In the world of the DMV, they hold the same power as a Superior Court Judge.

Hearing Officers must be able to conduct hearings, interviews and reexaminations, and make rulings on legal matters.  They must review and interpret various administrative, medical and legal documents to verify accuracy and to determine how such evidence affects their decision in a person’s ability to drive.  Finally, they must be prepared to prepare legally sufficient reports to detail case issues, findings and decisions and then issue appropriate orders and notices.

What are the qualifications of a DMV Hearing Officer?

To hold the position of Driver Safety Hearing Officer, the person must have a clean criminal history and possess a valid California Driver License.


Applicants for the position of Driver Safety Hearing Officer must possess either a Bachelor’s Degree from a four-year accredited college with a preference in criminal justice, prelaw, psychology, sociology, or a related field; or the successful completion of 9 semester units of college which must include at least one course in English composition and two courses in psychology, sociology or a related field.


Applicants for the position of Driver Safety Hearing Officer must possess a minimum of one-year of experience with the DMV as a Licensing/Registration Examiner or Senior Motor Vehicle Technician.

Additional college may be substituted for the general education requirement.


Knowledge of the Rules of Evidence, Administrative Law, Case Law, Hearing Procedures and Practices; spelling grammar, punctuation, and modern English usage.  Effect knowledge of the provisions of the California Vehicle Code, rules, regulations and policies of the DMV relating to driver licenses.

What to Expect from a Hearing Officer?

The State of California bestows an enormous amount of power on a DMV Hearing Officer; and just like any powerful person, Hearing Officers can be confident, kind and supportive.  On the other hand, that amount of power can go right to the head of a person of low character, causing them to abuse that power.  Many hearing officers are sarcastic, dismissive and abusive.  There is no excuse for it, but it is a fact of life.

When a driver appears before a DMV Hearing Officer, they are often confused and not really certain what to expect.  Honestly, most Hearing Officers are kind and willing to assist drivers in navigating the process; but there are limits to what even a kind hearing officer can do.

When a hearing convenes, the driver should expect the hearing officer to turn on a tape recorder as all “contacts” are audio recorded so the department can provide a record upon request.  Most hearing officers are very business-like and right “to the point.”  Drivers should not expect hearing officers to be warm and engaging.  Most are a bit distant and they tend to move from topic to topic in rapid fashion.  Many drivers will feel that a contact with a DMV Hearing Officer occurs in a “whirlwind” and that they understand little of what occurred.

Fortunately, drivers do not have to face a DMV Hearing Officer alone.  The DMV Defense Experts from California Drivers Advocates have been representing drivers throughout the State of California for many years.  We have dealt with and know all of the Hearing Officers from Redding to San Diego.  Our reputation as zealous advocates is well known and we are respected as consummate professionals.

Don’t face a DMV Hearing Officer alone.  Call CDA today and let us guide you through the DMV process.

Talk to a DMV Defense Expert