DMV Probation – What Is It and How Does It Work

DMV probation can be imposed when a motorist is found to be a negligent operator. The Department issues an Order of Probation to inform the driver that it has started the process to suspend the motorist's license. The order is sent per California's Negligent Operator Treatment System.

Once a license is suspended, the driver is put on a period of probation. This period is usually one year. During this time, the DMV will issue further penalties against the person if he or she violates a term of probation.

Drivers violate probation if they:

  1. commit any moving violation (e.g., speeding),
  2. get involved in any traffic accident,
  3. receive any 1- or 2-point violation on their driving record, and
  4. fail to appear in court on a traffic violation.

The DMV declares a motorist a “negligent operator” if he/she:

  1. accumulates a certain number of points on his/her driving record, and
  2. does so over a certain period of time.

A driver earns points for such things as traffic accidents or moving violations.

The Department declares a person a negligent operator if he/she accumulates:

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

If a driver is declared a negligent operator, or receives an Order of Probation, the motorist can:

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

Our DMV hearing attorneys will answer the following questions:

suspended license
DMV Probation is the start of a process that leads to a driver's license suspension

1. What is probation?

DMV probation is when the California DMV does the following:

  1. sends a driver an Order of Probation,
  2. in it, informs the driver that it is starting the process to suspend his/her license, and
  3. is starting this process because it has concluded the driver is a negligent operator.1

The DMV then puts the driver on a period of probation after it suspends the license. The period of probation is typically one year.

The motorist will receive further penalties if it gets into more trouble during this time. More trouble means the driver violates a term of probation.2

2. How does a driver violate probation?

A motorist can violate probation in one of four ways. These are if he/she:

  1. commits any moving violation (e.g., running a red light – in violation of Vehicle Code 21453 VC),
  2. gets involved in any traffic accident,
  3. receives any 1- or 2-point violation on his/her driving record, and
  4. fails to appear in court on a traffic violation.

3. What is a negligent operator?

The DMV declares a motorist a “negligent operator” if he/she:

  1. accumulates a certain number of points on his/her driving record, and
  2. does so over a certain period of time.3

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

The DMV issues one point for traffic accidents and moving violations. It issues two points for criminal driving offenses.4

4. When does the DMV send an Order of Probation?

The DMV sends a driver an Order of Probation as part of its Negligent Operator Treatment System (NOTS).

NOTS refers to:

  • the process the DMV must follow,
  • before it can lawfully suspend a person's license.

According to this system, the DMV sends an Order of Probation if a driver accumulates:

  • four points within any 12-month period,
  • six points within any 24-month period, or
  • eight points within any 36-month period.5

Example: Nia gets arrested twice in 2019 for DUI. In 2020, she causes one accident and gets a ticket for driving on a sidewalk. Recall that criminal offenses mean two points on a person's record. Accidents and traffic violations mean one point each.

Here, Nia has unfortunately earned a total of six points on her DMV driving record (four for the DUIs, one for the accident, and one for the ticket). These points accumulated over a 24-month period. This means the DMV can declare Nia a negligent operator and send her an Order of Probation.

Note that this order is also called a "Level III" letter.

The Level III letter tells the motorist that:

  • he/she is declared a negligent operator,
  • his/her driver's license is suspended for six months, and
  • he/she is on probation for one year.

5. Can a driver challenge this order?

If a driver is declared a negligent operator in an Order of Probation, the motorist can:

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

DMV administrative hearings are different than 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.6

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.7

For additional help...

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Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

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


Legal References:

  1. DMV website – Negligent Operator, Guidelines and Actions.

  2. See same.

  3. See same.

  4. See same.

  5. California Vehicle Code 12810.5.

  6. See same.

  7. California Vehicle Code 12813.

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