As stated in other chapters of this website, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), enjoys broad power to control the license status of drivers within the State of California. Whether the individual driver holds a California Drivers License or a license from another state, California’s DMV has the power to control a person’s driving privilege within this state.
At times, a person’s physical or mental capacity may be brought into question as it relates to their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle on California’s streets and highways. The DMV is granted the authority to suspend any driver’s license until such time as it can be determined that the individual driver no longer poses a threat to his or her own safety or the safety of others. The process by which the DMV reviews and evaluates the person’s ability to safely drive is referred to as a physical or mental re-examination. Often referred to as a “P & M” hearing, a “lack of skill” inquiry, or a “medical suspension” hearing, the physical or mental re-examination is initiated in several stages.
Although the DMV has a specific policy of not targeting drivers based solely on their age, the department will exercise its power to re‐examine any driver it believes is losing the knowledge or skill to operate a motor vehicle. Additionally, after the age of 55, drivers are no longer permitted to renew their licenses by mail. The senior driver must appear, in‐person, at a DMV field office to renew their licenses thereby allowing the DMV staff to make subjective assessments of a person’s ability to drive.
As is always the case with administrative actions taken by the DMV, physical or mental re-examination, or the more immediate Priority Re‐Examination, requires the driver to act within very short periods of time. If you receive a “Notice of Re‐Examination” from the DMV in the mail or, if you receive a “Notice of Priority Re‐Examination,” you may have as little as five days to protect your driving privilege. If you receive any notice of this nature, immediately telephone California Drivers Advocates. Even if you cannot afford to retain our services, we can advise you what must be done to protect your driving privilege. Remember, responding quickly and appropriately is critical to preventing the loss of your driving privilege. We know how critical driving is to a person’s freedom and self‐reliance. We’re here to help.
The DMV derives its power to conduct re-examinations of any driver from the following sections of the California Vehicle Code:
CVC Sections 12806 and 12809, authorize the DMV to refuse to issue or renew a driver license to any person who is incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle for reasons relating to physical or mental conditions.
CVC Section 12814, empowers the DMV to administer tests and to conduct a re-examination of a driver at the time of license renewal.
CVC 13800, allows the DMV to conduct investigations of a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.
CVC Section 12818, permits the DMV to conduct priority re-examinations of those drivers who are thought to pose an immediate danger to the motoring public.
CVC Section 13953, permits the DMV to immediately suspend a person’s driver license when it is feared that person poses an immediate danger to the motoring public.
What causes a Notice of physical or mental re-examination?
The “Notice of physical or mental re-examination is normally triggered when the DMV receives notice from a variety of sources that the individual driver may suffer with a physical or mental condition which renders them unable to safely operate a motor vehicle.
The most frequent sources of alerts coming to the DMV are:
1.) Law Enforcement Officers
Most commonly these alerts are generated when police officers conduct enforcement traffic stops to cite a driver for committing a traffic offense. If the police officer determines that the driver may suffer with a physical or mental condition which warrants further investigation, he may send a “Request for Re-Examination” to the DMV. When this occurs, the driver will receive a letter in the mail alerting him or her that the DMV is conducting a “Re-Examination” of their ability to drive. In most instances, this notice requires the driver to take some action within 10 days.
Often a judge, magistrate or commissioner may deal with a driver who is appearing in court to fight a traffic ticket. During the contact with the driver, if the judge learns of or feels the driver suffers from a physical or mental condition which requires further investigation, he too may file a “Request for Re-Examination” with the DMV.
As stated above, this will cause the DMV to send a letter to the driver of a pending suspension and will require that the driver act quickly to protect his driving privilege.
3.) Medical Professionals
California law specifically mandates that physicians immediately report to the DMV, any patient suffering with a specific list of physical or mental conditions where the physician has reason to believe that you may not possess the ability safely operate a vehicle.
Some of the conditions regularly reported to the DMV include:
- Alzheimers Disease
- Epilepsy or Seizure Disorder
- Lapse in Consciousness
- Macular Degeneration
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Parkinson’s Disease
Although these are the most common conditions causing re-examinations, a doctor is bound to report ANY condition he suspects may affect one’s ability to safely drive.
4.) Family Members, Friends or Others
California law permits virtually any person to file a “Request for Re-Examination” if they believe a driver no longer possesses the ability to safely drive. With the exception of immediate family members, the DMV has practiced a policy of protecting the identity of those person’s filing such a request.
5.) The Driver Himself
That’s right, in some instances the DMV will view information provided by the individual driver as cause for a physical or mental re-examination. Most often this occurs when the driver documents some medical condition when applying for a driver license or at the time of renewal. In some instances, the individual’s driving record or negligent operator status may cause suspicion that he or she suffers with a medical condition requiring further investigation.
Notice of Re-Examination vs. Notice of “Priority” Re-Examination
The greatest number of Re-Examinations begin when a driver receives a notice in the mail. In this instance, the driver is informed that the DMV intends to suspend his or her driving privilege because the department suspects he or she suffers with a physical or mental condition which renders them unable to safely operate a motor vehicle. In most re-examination situations, the driver is given an opportunity to present evidence at an administrative hearing to rebut the evidence against them but, there is a requirement that the driver (or his representative) contact the DMV within 10 calendar days. Failure to act within the appropriate time frame will cause the DMV to automatically suspend your driving privilege and to hold it in suspension until such time as you demonstrate your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. In the standard physical or mental re-examination, the driver is given ample time to research medical records and prepare a vibrant defense to terminate any further action against their driving privilege.
When a driver is notified of a regular re-examination, the DMV will provide the driver and his doctor with an extensive questionnaire called a “DMV driver medical evaluation (DME).” Every driver who receives a DME is required to fill out the form in its entirety, provide supporting evidence and then sign the form under the penalty of perjury. If a driver were to knowingly provide false information in a DME and then sign the form swearing to its accuracy, that driver could have his driving privilege revoked and could be prosecuted in court. There are several ways to appropriately and legally defend yourself against a license suspension, even if you have a severe physical or mental condition. There is no reason to commit fraud on a legal document of this nature. Call CDA and we’ll help you protect your driving privilege the right way.
Once the DME is forwarded to the DMV, the assigned hearing officer may find that no evidence is found to support a license suspension. If this occurs, no further action is required and the driver’s license is fully re-instated. If, on the other hand, the hearing officer has concerns about the content of the DME, he or she may introduce it as evidence at a physical or mental re-examination hearing.
In the Priority Re-Examination process, however, things move much more quickly and the driver’s response to the situation must be expedited. Most often, the Priority Re-Examination occurs when a law enforcement officer has contacted a driver at the scene of an accident or during a traffic stop. If, during that contact, the officer believes that the driver’s physical or mental capacity is so poor that he or she poses an immediate hazard to the motoring public, the officer may determine public safety requires an immediate investigation by the DMV. The requirements for Priority Re-Examination are:
- The driver has committed a violation of the “rules of the road” or been involved in a traffic accident.
- The driver exhibits evidence of significant physical or mental incapacity.
- The driver poses a significant traffic safety risk.
If the police officer determines that Priority Re-Examination is warranted, he will prepare a report to the DMV outlining the specific facts establishing his concern. The officer will provide directly to the driver a “Notice of Priority Re-Examination.” Once the driver has received this notice, his local Driver Safety Office MUST be contacted within the next 5 calendar days or his driving privilege will be immediately suspended.
The goal of the Priority Re-Examination is to determine, in an accelerated fashion, if the driver poses an immediate hazard to the public. Essentially, the process of the Priority Re-Examination is identical to the regular Re-Examination, it just happens in a much shorter period of time. The driver is still entitled to be represented by an Administrative Advocate from California Drivers Advocates and is still entitled to present evidence which rebuts the DMV’s concern that the driver may not be safe to drive.
If the DMV hearing officer determines that there is good cause to suspect the driver is a danger to the motoring public, the driver’s license will be immediately suspended until such time as the driver can demonstrate that the physical or mental condition has been cured or controlled to a point that he or she is capable of safely operating a motor vehicle.
Conversely, if the hearing officer determines that evidence suggests that the driver is not a danger to the motoring public, the suspension may be set aside and no further action is necessary.