The term negligent operator refers to a suspension or revocation of a driver’s license that the California DMV imposes if drivers accumulate too many points on their driving record in a given period of time.
Points are assessed for moving violations as well as criminal traffic convictions such as DUI or reckless driving.
The DMV will take the following actions:
- Level 1 — Issue a warning letter if the driver gets 2 points in 12 months, 4 points in 24 months, or 6 points in 36 months
- Level 2 — Issue a notice of intent to suspend if the driver gets 3 points in 12 months, 5 points in 24 months, or 7 points in 36 months
- Level 3 — Order probation or suspension if the driver gets 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months, or 8 points in 36 months
Even if a driver has accumulated no points, the DMV can declare the person a negligent operator and suspend the license for causing an accident resulting in serious injury or death.
A driver can go to a negligent operator hearing to:
- challenge a negligent operator status, and
- potentially beat a driver’s license suspension.
The administrative hearing can result in a:
- driver’s license suspension,
- suspension being set aside,
- motorist getting placed on DMV probation, or
- driver getting a restricted license to drive.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. What is a negligent operator and what are points?
- 2. What is the Negligent Operator Treatment System (“NOTS”)?
- 3. What is a Negligent Operator Hearing?
- 4. What are the possible outcomes of a hearing?
- 5. What happens after a negligent operator hearing?
1. What is a negligent operator and what are points?
The DMV declares a motorist a “negligent operator” if he:
- accumulates a certain number of points,
- on his California driving record.
The DMV issues points on a person’s record. It does so for four main categories of events:
- mechanical violations that affect safe driving,
- moving violations, and
- criminal driving offenses.
As to accidents, a driver receives one point if he caused an accident.1 But in serious or fatal accidents, the Department can bring a DMV fatality hearing and suspend a license even if the person has accumulated no other points.
Drivers receive one point if they drive a car with a mechanical defect.2
Further, most moving violations are assigned one point.3 These include violations like:
- speeding more than 70 MPH on the freeway (Vehicle Code 22356 VC),
- illegal passing (Vehicle Code 21751 VC), and
- crossing a divided highway (Vehicle Code 21651a).
Criminal violations of the motor vehicle code will result in two points.4 These may include:
- California DUI,
- driving on a suspended license (Vehicle Code 14601 VC), and
- misdemeanor hit-and-run (Vehicle Code 20002 VC).
Example: In 2020, Carol causes one accident. She also gets cited for two traffic violations. One for speeding and one for running a red light. Carol has a point count of three on her DMV record.
If Carol is convicted of DUI later in the year, she would have a total of five points on her record.
2. What is the negligent operator treatment system (“NOTS”)?
The DMV’s negligent operator treatment system (NOTS) refers to:
- the process the DMV must follow,
- before it can suspend a person’s driving privileges.
The NOTS process includes four basic steps. These include:
- an initial warning letter,
- a notice of intent to suspend,
- an order of probation/suspension, and
- a violation of NOTS probation.
2.1. Initial warning letter
The DMV sends a driver an initial warning letter if he accumulates:
- two points within any 12-month period,
- four points within any 24-month period, or
- six points within any 36-month time period.5
This letter is called a negligent operator “Level I” letter.
2.2. Notice of intent to suspend
This is a letter that the Department:
- sends to a driver, and in it,
- gives notice of its intent to suspend the motorist’s license.
The DMV sends this notice once a driver accumulates:
- three points within any twelve 12-month period,
- five points within any 24-month period, or
- seven points within any 36-month period.6
This notice is called a “Level II” letter.
2.3. Order of probation/suspension
This order is sent to a person if he accumulates:
- four points within any 12-month period,
- six points within any 24-month period, or
- eight points within any 36-month period.7
This order is called a “Level II” letter.
The Level III letter tells the motorist that:
- he is declared a negligent operator,
- his driver’s license is suspended for six months, and
- he is on a one-year probation.
A driver must act responsibly behind the wheel once on probation. He can violate probation if he:
- commits any moving violation,
- gets involved in any traffic accident,
- receives any 1- or 2-point violation, and
- fails to appear in court on a traffic violation.
2.4. Violation of NOTS probation
A driver receives a violation of NOTS probation letter if he violates probation. This is called a “Level IV” letter.
The following are the penalties for violating probation:
- an additional six-month driver’s license suspension,
- an additional one year of probation, and
- a possible one-year driver’s license revocation.
A driver has to apply for a new license if a revocation.
3. What is a Negligent Operator Hearing?
A driver can request a negligent operator hearing to:
- challenge a negligent operator status, and
- get a driver’s license suspension set aside.8
This request comes after receipt of either a:
- Level III, or
- Level IV letter.
A negligent operator hearing is done at a DMV office. A DMV hearing officer conducts the hearing.
The hearing serves three purposes:
- to evaluate the motorist’s driver’s record,
- to determine if the driver is a negligent operator, and
- to determine the status of the motorist’s driver’s license.
The only issues considered by the hearing officer are whether:
- the motorist’s driving record is accurate,
- he has any pending court charges that are not on the DMV’s record,
- the driver is responsible for the accidents on his driving record,
- alcohol played a role in any violation,
- physical/ mental conditions contributed to any violations, and
- there are any mitigating factors.
The hearing officer makes a ruling after considering these issues. The officer only has to find that:
- it is “more likely than not” that,
- a person is a negligent operator
for a suspension to stand. This is a lower standard than:
- the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard
- used in criminal trials.
4. What are the possible outcomes of a hearing?
A hearing officer may decide the following after a hearing:
- a license suspension gets set aside.
- the motorist gets placed on negligent operator probation. This means he has to remain violation- and accident-free or suspension goes into place.
- the driver gets a suspension but is granted a restricted license.9
- a license gets suspended.
5. What happens after a negligent operator hearing?
Two things happen post-hearing.
The first is that the driver may:
- challenge the Department’s decision to suspend his license,
- by asking for a departmental review of its decision.10
In this event, the DMV will:
- examine the hearing record, including all the evidence presented,
- to determine whether the hearing officer made the correct decision.
The second thing that results after a hearing is that:
- after a suspension or revocation expires,
- the motorist must reinstate his driver’s license.
This means he asks for his license back. He does this by:
- contacting the DMV,
- paying an administrative fee,
- showing proof of insurance, and
- maintaining that insurance for at least three years.
In Colorado? Learn about point suspensions.
In Nevada? Learn about demerit points.