Can my drivers license be suspended for an accident?

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 person's driver's license because of a traffic accident in two instances. The first is finding the driver to be a negligent operator by virtue of accumulating too many points. The second is finding the driver to be a negligent operator by virtue of contributing to an accident that causes serious injuries or death.

In other words, even drivers with no points on their records can be deemed negligent operators and face license suspensions if they cause an accident in which a person is seriously injured or killed.

Examples of “serious injuries” in traffic accidents include:

  • broken bones,
  • concussions, and
  • damage to a bodily organ.

Note that a driver can request a DMV hearing to:

  • challenge a negligent operator status, and
  • seek to get a driver's license suspension set aside.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

california suspended drivers license
The California DMV CAN suspend a person’s driver’s license following a traffic accident.

1. Can the DMV suspend a driver's license because of an accident?

The California DMV can suspend a person's driving privileges if:

  1. the person caused an accident, and
  2. the accident resulted in the driver getting labeled a negligent operator.1

The DMV can declare drivers “negligent operators” if:

  • they get a certain number of “points” on their driving record, and
  • do so in a given time period.

A motorist will receive points on his/her record for such things as:

According to California's negligent operator treatment system, the DMV can suspend driving privileges if someone earns:

  • two points within any 12-month period,
  • four points within any 24-month period, or
  • six points within any 36-month period.2

As to accidents, a driver earns one point if he caused an accident.3

Example: Jerome gets a speeding ticket in June, putting one point on his DMV driving record. The following month he causes an accident after driving into a neighbor's mailbox. The event puts another point on Jerome's record.

Here, the DMV can suspend his license because of the accident. The accident worked to put enough points on Jerome's license, for the year, so that the DMV could order a suspension.

2. What about an accident causing a serious injury?

In addition to the above, the DMV can:

  1. declare a person a negligent operator, and
  2. do so even without that person having any points on his record.

The DMV can do this if a person causes just one traffic accident. But the accident must have resulted in serious injury or death.4

This all means that the DMV can suspend a motorist's license if:

  1. he/ she caused an accident, and
  2. someone was seriously injured or killed in it.

Note that the driver does not have to be the primary cause of the accident for this to happen. The driver only has to have contributed to it.5

Some acts that may contribute to an accident include:

3. What is a serious injury?

Examples of “serious injuries” in traffic accidents include:

  • broken bones,
  • lapse of consciousness,
  • concussions,
  • impairment of function of a bodily organ,
  • wounds that require suturing, and
  • brain injuries.

Example: Jose is speeding down a neighborhood street. He blows a stop sign and hits another driver that also failed to stop. The collision results in the other driver breaking his left arm.

Here, Jose contributed to an accident by running a stop sign. The accident also resulted in a serious injury – the driver's broken arm. This all means that the DMV can suspend Jose's license. This is true even if he had a clean driving record prior to the event.

4. Can a driver challenge a suspension/revocation?

A driver can request a DMV hearing to:

  • challenge a negligent operator status, and
  • get a driver's license suspension set aside.6

This request must be made within:

  • 10 days of receiving notice of suspension, or
  • 14 days from the date of the notice, if the notice was mailed.7

DMV administrative hearings are separate from criminal hearings. They differ in three main ways:

  1. they are held at the DMV while criminal hearings are held in court,
  2. they are held before a hearing officer instead of a judge, and
  3. the standards used to consider evidence are less strict than those used in court.8

A hearing officer may decide the following after a hearing:

  1. a license suspension gets set aside.
  2. the motorist gets placed on negligent operator probation. This means a suspension does not go into effect. It will though if the driver commits a violation or an accident.
  3. the driver gets a suspension but is granted a restricted license, or
  4. a license gets suspended.9

For additional help...

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For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

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