Can the California DMV Suspend a Person’s License Because of Dementia?

3/12/20 UPDATE: Due to COVID-19, all DMV hearings will be done over the telephone. People who prefer in-person hearings may request them, but they will be delayed indefinitely.

The California DMV can suspend a motorist's driving privileges because of dementia. The Department can suspend a person's license if he/she has any medical condition that impacts safe driving. “Medical conditions” include things such as dementia, a lapse of consciousness, and Alzheimer's disease.

These conditions are a common cause of driver's license suspensions for elderly drivers. But California drivers of all ages can be affected.

Dementia is an overall term for a decline in a person's memory. It can affect a person's ability to drive safely because it hinders one's

  • ability to concentrate,
  • depth perception, and
  • problem-solving skills.

The DMV uses a DME to decide if it should suspend a license for dementia. A DME is short for a “Driver Medical Evaluation.” A DME is:

  • a medical questionnaire, and
  • one that helps evaluate a driver's health as it bears on fitness to drive.

Note that if the DMV suspends a license because of dementia, the driver can:

  • request a DMV hearing, and
  • try to challenge the Department's decision.

Our DMV hearing attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

senior citizen with dementia
The DMV can suspend a motorist’s driving privileges if he has dementia.

1. Can the DMV suspend a person's license because of dementia?

The California DMV can suspend a motorist's driving privileges if he or she has dementia.

California Vehicle Code 12806 gives the DMV the authority to:

  1. suspend a person's driving privileges, and
  2. do so if the person suffers from certain physical or mental conditions.1

Types of conditions that can lead to a suspension include:

  • Dementia,
  • Alzheimer's disease,
  • Alcoholism or drug addiction,
  • Disorders that can cause a “lapse of consciousness,” or
  • Any other condition that can affect a driver's ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.2

Note that almost any condition can fall within this last category.

Also note that:

  • the DMV cannot suspend a person's driving privileges,
  • for just any medical condition.

The Department can only do so if there is a nexus between the condition and safe driving.3 A nexus just means that the condition causes a loss in driving ability.

2. How does dementia affect safe driving?

Dementia is an overall term for a decline in a person's memory. The condition can affect a person's ability to drive because it can hinder one's:

  • ability to concentrate,
  • depth perception,
  • problem-solving skills,
  • reaction time,
  • decision-making skills, and
  • ability to observe people and events.

3. Does the DMV rate dementia in different stages?

The DMV says that dementia is a progressive disorder. This means it passes through the following stages:

  • mild,
  • moderate, and
  • severe.4

The Department states that only drivers with mild dementia can keep their licenses. This is provided that they can still drive safely.

Mild dementia means that a person can care for his or her own needs. A person's memory begins to decline, but traits necessary for safe driving are still intact.5

Moderate dementia is when people start to experience difficulty with independent living. Some degree of supervision is necessary for persons in this stage. Driving would be dangerous for persons with moderate dementia because:

  • judgment starts to deteriorate, and
  • reaction time starts to slow.6

Sever dementia means that a person needs constant supervision. This is because he or she struggles with daily activities. A person in this stage is mentally and physically incapacitated.7

doctor with senior citizen
The DMV may learn about a driver having dementia through his doctor.

4. How does the Department learn that a driver has dementia?

The DMV can learn that a driver suffers from dementia from a variety of sources. Some of these are:

  • a motorist's doctor,
  • a DMV employee,
  • law enforcement personnel,
  • a driver's family or friends,
  • an anonymous tipster,
  • social media, or
  • the individual driver.

5. Does the DMV use a DME for suspension purposes?

The DMV uses a DME to help decide if it should suspend a license because of dementia.

A Driver Medical Evaluation is a medical document that the DMV uses to:

  • evaluate a driver's medical and physical health, and
  • do so, in relation to that person's safe driving ability.8

The evaluation itself is a five-page document. The first page requires the driver to complete a brief health history. The driver's physician is required to complete the rest of the form. The physician:

  • provides information on that medical condition that,
  • may impact a person's driving ability.

A driver has to return the DME to the DMV after it gets completed.

A hearing officer at the DMV reviews the eval after it is received.

The officer will suspend a driver's license if he/she decides that a driver suffers from either:

  1. moderate dementia, or
  2. severe dementia.

If a driver is in the mild stage of dementia, then:

  • the officer can suspend driving privileges, and
  • do so if he/she decides the condition hurts the person's ability to drive.

If the DMV decides to suspend a license, it sends an Order of Suspension to the driver. Note that the Department may also conduct a DMV reexamination and order a supplemental driving performance evaluation

6. Can a person challenge a suspension?

If the DMV suspends a license because of dementia, the driver can:

  • request a DMV reexamination hearing, and
  • try to challenge the Department's decision.

Note, though, that a driver can only challenge a suspension in cases of mild dementia. Suspensions for moderate or severe dementia cannot get over-turned.

A driver must request a DMV hearing within 10 days of receiving the Order of Suspension.

A reexamination hearing is:

  • a DMV proceeding, and
  • one in which the Department re-evaluates a person's ability to drive safely.

A driver wins a hearing by convincing the DMV that:

  1. he/she can drive safely, and
  2. he/she can do so despite dementia.

At the completion of this hearing, a hearing officer may order:

  1. the reinstatement of a motorist's driving privileges,
  2. a medical probation,
  3. a restricted driving permit or license,
  4. a license suspension, or
  5. the revocation of a person's driving privileges.

For additional help...

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