A Driver Safety Hearing Officer is a DMV official who presides over administrative hearings to determine whether or not the department should suspend or revoke a person’s driving privileges.
For example, the DMV might conduct a hearing, and possibly suspend or revoke a motorist’s driver’s license, because of:
- a charge of driving under the influence (DUI),
- a reexamination of a person’s ability to drive safely, and/or
- certain physical or mental conditions that make it unsafe for a person to drive.
During an administrative hearing, it is the hearing officer’s job to:
- review any evidence presented (by either the DMV or the driver),
- examine or cross-examine any witnesses,
- make legal rulings, and
- enter a final decision as to suspension or revocation.
As to the latter, at the completion of a hearing, an officer can decide to:
- suspend a person’s driver’s license, but also grant the motorist a restricted license (for example, in order to drive to work),
- place the driver on DMV probation,
- suspend a person’s driving privileges, or
- revoke the motorist’s driving privileges.
Our DMV hearing lawyers will discuss the following in this article:
- 1. What is a California DMV hearing officer?
- 2. What is a DMV administrative hearing?
- 3. What are a person’s rights at a hearing?
- 4. What are the possible outcomes of these administrative procedures?
1. What is a California DMV hearing officer?
A hearing officer is a person within the DMV’s Division of Driver Safety that presides over administrative hearings.1
In the State of California, the DMV Driver Safety Office conducts administrative hearings to determine whether or not it should initiate a license suspension or a license revocation against a subject driver.2
A hearing itself is not a criminal court proceeding within a California superior court. The hearing process is essentially a less formal opportunity for a motorist to try and protect their driving privileges.3
A hearing officer performs the following tasks at a hearing:
- reviews documents and evidence,
- examines and reexamines witnesses,
- makes legal rulings, and
- enters findings and decisions as to a person’s driving privileges.4
Note that a hearing officer is not an official judge or a licensed attorney. A hearing officer is simply a DMV employee.
However, drivers in a DMV hearing should address the hearing officer as “judge” or “your honor.”
2. What is a DMV administrative hearing?
If the California DMV decides to suspend or revoke a person’s driving privileges, that person can request an administrative hearing to challenge the Department’s decision.5
The hearings are conducted in Driver Safety Offices. Please click here for a listing of branch offices and field offices located throughout California.
If a motorist wants to request a hearing, they must do so within 10 days of receiving notice that the DMV wishes to act against the driver.6
There are several reasons as to why the Department may want to suspend or revoke a person’s driving privileges. Some of these include because:
- the driver received a DUI or other criminal conviction that carries a license suspension,
- the driver was underage and violated the zero alcohol tolerance law,
- the DMV questions the driver’s ability to drive safely,
- the driver suffers from certain mental or physical conditions (that limit their driving abilities),
- the driver is an addict,
- the driver is an elder person with certain health conditions,
- the driver is a minor and was convicted of a crime,
- the DMV put a hold on the person’s driver’s license,
- the driver committed road rage,
- the driver lied on the driver’s license application or other DMV submission,
- the driver had no auto insurance,
- the driver refused to submit to a chemical test, and/or
- the DMV finds that a driver is a negligent operator for having excessive accidents or moving violations.
During a hearing, the driver presents evidence to show that they should keep their driving privileges. This evidence can take the form of:
- their driving record,
- their criminal record,
- medical records,
- witness testimony (for example, from a health care provider) made under oath, and
- witness statements made under oath.
The rules that control DMV administrative hearings are largely found in the:
- California Vehicle Code, and
- California Code of Regulations.
The hearing officer listens to and reviews all of the evidence presented during the hearing and then renders a final decision on the issues of revocation and suspension.
Note that the audio of DMV administration hearings is usually recorded on tape.
Also note that although DMV hearings are less formal than criminal court, people should still dress neatly and refrain from using objectionable language.
3. What are a person’s rights at a hearing?
A driver that requests an administrative hearing has certain rights designed to protect themself during the proceeding. These include the right to:
- be represented by an attorney (although a driver can decide to represent themself),
- review any evidence that the DMV presents,
- cross-examine any witness that testifies on behalf of the DMV,
- present evidence and witness testimony on their own behalf,
- testify on their own behalf, and
- receive a copy of the hearing officer’s decision upon completion of the hearing.7
Depending on the case, drivers try to show the DMV hearing officer that:
- the policeman lacked reasonable suspicion to make the traffic stop;
- the policeman failed to follow proper procedures;
- the state’s evidence is inadmissible and/or inaccurate; and/or
- the state’s accusations are false
The DMV hearing officer will not be swayed simply because the driver needs a license to keep their job.
Note that non-English speakers should bring an interpreter with them. Deaf drivers should call the Driver Safety Office to request an interpreter for the hearing.
Also note that if a driver does not show up, the hearing officer will automatically find against the driver. Drivers who cannot make their hearing should contact the DMV at least five days beforehand to reschedule. Otherwise, it may take three months to get a new one.
4. What are the possible outcomes of these administrative procedures?
A hearing officer may decide the following after a hearing:
- to set aside an existing suspension and restore your driving privileges.
- the motorist gets placed on negligent operator probation (which means the driver has to remain violation- and accident-free or suspension goes into place).
- the driver gets a suspension but is granted a restricted license.8
- a license gets suspended.
- a license gets revoked.
Note that a driver can challenge the Department’s decision to suspend or revoke their license by asking for a departmental review of its decision.9
In this event, the DMV will examine the hearing record, including all the evidence presented, and determine whether the hearing officer made the correct decision.
If a hearing officer suspends or revokes a person’s driving privileges, then the person can file for the reinstatement of these privileges after the period of suspension/revocation expires.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our trusted attorneys provide a free consultation, and they represent clients throughout California, including those in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Bernardino.
- See, for example: Lake v. Reed (1997) ; California DUI Lawyers Assn. v. Department of Motor Vehicles (Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, Division Four, 2022) 77 Cal. App. 5th 517.
- See same.
- California DMV website, “Administrative Hearings.”
- California DMV website, “Driver Safety Hearing Officer.”
- California DMV website, “Administrative Hearings.”
- See same.
- See same.
- California Vehicle Code 12813.
- California Vehicle Code 14105.5.