The California DMV can suspend your driver’s license after a traffic accident in five instances:
- You get designated as a negligent operator for accumulating too many points.
- You get designated a negligent operator for contributing to an accident that causes serious injuries or death.
- You were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- You had no insurance (a violation of Vehicle Code 16028(a)).
- You did not report the accident.
In addition, failing to appear at required traffic court appearances or failing to pay fines will trigger a license suspension. Also, the DMV may suspend your license if you are convicted of reckless driving (VC 23103), but it usually just tacks on points to your driving record instead.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. Can the California DMV suspend my license after an accident if I have too many points?
- 2. What about an accident causing a serious injury?
- 3. Does DUI trigger a license suspension?
- 4. Does not having car insurance trigger a license suspension after an accident in California?
- 5. Will I lose my license for not reporting the accident?
- 6. Will my license get suspended if I miss court?
- 7. Can reckless driving cause me to lose my license?
- 8. Can I challenge a suspension?
1. Can the California DMV suspend my license after an accident if I have too many points?
Yes. The California DMV can suspend your driving privileges if you caused an accident, and the accident resulted in you getting labeled a negligent operator for accruing too many points on your driving record.1
You will receive points on your record for such things as:
- traffic accidents,
- moving violations (such as running a stop sign – in violation of Vehicle Code 22450 VC), and
- criminal driving offenses (such as breaking a California DUI law).
According to California’s negligent operator treatment system, the DMV can suspend your driving privilege if you earn:
- four points within any 12-month period,
- six points within any 24-month period, or
- eight points within any 36-month period.2
As to accidents, you earn one point if you caused an accident.3
Example: Jerome gets three speeding tickets in June, putting three points 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:
- declare you a negligent operator, and
- do so even without you having any points on your record.
The DMV can do this if you cause just one traffic accident. Though the accident must have resulted in serious injury or death.4
This all means that the DMV can suspend your license if:
- you caused an accident, and
- someone was seriously injured or killed in it.
Note that you do not have to be the primary cause of the accident for this to happen. You only have to have contributed to it.5
Some acts that may contribute to an accident include:
- traveling at high speeds on crowded roads,
- driving a car while under the influence,
- operating a vehicle recklessly,
- driving while engaged in a speed contest (VC 23109), or
- driving while attempting to evade a police officer (VC 2800.1).
2.1. What is a serious injury?
Examples of “serious injuries” in traffic accidents include:
- broken bones,
- lapse of consciousness,
- 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.
3. Does DUI trigger a license suspension?
Yes. A first-time DUI in California typically carries a four-month suspension, whether or not there was an accident. If there was an accident that caused an injury, a misdemeanor DUI charge carries a one-to-three year suspension. Plus a felony DUI causing injury carries up to a five-year license suspension. (But you may be able to continue driving with an ignition interlock device.)6
3.1. What if I refused to take a breath or blood test?
If you refuse to submit to a breath test or blood test, you face a license suspension of one year (or more if you have prior DUIs). It does not matter whether you were involved in an accident or not.7
4. Does not having car insurance trigger a license suspension after an accident in California?
Yes. If you get in a car accident and have no insurance, you face a four-year license suspension. Though you may be able to resume driving after one year if you obtain proof of insurance and maintain it for three years.8
5. Will I lose my license for not reporting an accident?
Yes, the DMV will suspend your license if you fail to report a car accident within 10 days if someone was injured or killed, or if property damage exceeds $1,000. It does not matter if you were not at fault for the accident.9 See our page on Can you file a police report days after an accident?
6. Will my license get suspended if I miss court?
As of 2023, the court will no longer notify the DMV if you miss court. Therefore, the DMV should not suspend your license for it.10
Note that missing court can also cause the criminal court to issue a bench warrant for your arrest.
7. Can reckless driving cause me to lose my license?
The DMV may suspend your license for reckless driving. Though more commonly the DMV just adds two or more points to your driving record. (Note that accumulating four points in one year will trigger an automatic suspension.)11
8. Can I challenge a suspension/revocation?
You can request a DMV hearing to:
- challenge your negligent operator status, and
- get your driver’s license suspension set aside.12
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.13
DMV administrative hearings are separate from criminal hearings. They differ in three main ways:
- they are held at the DMV while criminal hearings are held in court,
- they are held before a hearing officer instead of a judge, and
- the standards used to consider evidence are less strict than those used in court.14
A hearing officer may decide the following after a hearing:
- a license suspension gets set aside.
- you get placed on negligent operator probation. This means a suspension does not go into effect. It will though if you commit a violation or an accident.
- you get a suspension but are granted a restricted license, or
- your license gets suspended.15
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
- California DMV website – What is a Point?
- California Vehicle Code 12810.5; Negligent Operator Actions, California DMV.
- California Vehicle Code 12810.
- California DMV website – Guidelines and Actions.
- See same.
- California Vehicle Codes 13352, 23153, & 23556.
- California Vehicle Code 13353.
- California Vehicle Code 11110. See, e.g., Superior Court of California, Alameda County, Self-Help Services, General Information on Suspended Drivers License.
- California Vehicle Codes 16070 & 16072; Vehicle Collisions, California DMV.
- California Vehicle Codes 40508(a). Assembly Bill 2746 (2022).
- California Vehicle Codes 11110, 23103, 23104, 23105, & 12810; Negligence, California DMV.
- California Vehicle Code 14100.
- DMV website – Driver Safety Administrative Hearings Process (FFDL 26).
- See same.
- California Vehicle Code 12813.