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 Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) can declare drivers a “negligent operator” if they accumulate a certain number of “points” on their driving record. A motorist will receive points on his DMV record for such things like:
- moving violations (e.g., running a stop sign – in violation of Vehicle Code 22450 VC), and
- criminal driving offenses (e.g., breaking a California DUI law).
The DMV can do the following if a person earns enough points within a 1-, 2- or 3-year period:
- declare him a negligent operator, and
- suspend, or even, revoke, his driving privileges.
Even if person has accumulated no points, the DMV can declare him 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
- beat a driver's license suspension.
The 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 highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What is a negligent operator and what are points?
- 2. What is the Negligent Operator Treatment System ("NOTS")?
- 2.1. Initial warning letter
- 2.2. Notice of intent to suspend
- 2.3. Order of probation/suspension
- 2.4. Violation of NOTS probation
- 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 total of three points 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 license.
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 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 probation for one year.
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 driving 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.
California Vehicle Code 12810.
California Vehicle Code 12810.5.
California Vehicle Code 14100.
California Vehicle Code 12813.
California Vehicle Code 14105.5.