Empowering California Drivers

To Maintain Their Driving Privilege

Lapse of Consciousness DMV Hearings

What Does the DMV Consider to be a Lapse of Consciousness or Control?

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is the State Agency empowered with monitoring the driving privilege of all persons who operate motor vehicles in the State of California.  In addition to evaluating and qualifying new applicants for the issuance of a driver license, the DMV is equally tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that existing drivers maintain the ability, skill and knowledge to drive as they move through life.

An area of great concern for the DMV is any driver who suffers with any medical disorder that is characterized by a Lapse of Consciousness or Control.  A driver may suffer a Lapse of Consciousness or Control as a result of a variety of medical issues: Epilepsy or Seizure Disorder, Diabetes (Hypoglycemia), Brain Trauma, Brain Tumors,  Lung Disorders, Cardiovascular Disorders, Fainting/Syncope,  Substance Abuse, Mental Disorders & or  Sleep Disorders.

  • Health & Safety Code Section 103900 defines a Lapse of Consciousness as any condition causing a “marked reduction of alertness or responsiveness.”
  • It is important to note that the DMV will be concerned anytime a licensed driver suffers a Lapse of Consciousness or Control; even if the event does not occur while driving. So, a licensed driver who suffers a seizure at home will be scrutinized just as intensely as a driver who suffers such an event while driving.

How Do Drivers Learn the DMV is Suspending Their License for a Lapse of Consciousness?

In almost every instance, a driver will learn they have come under DMV scrutiny by receiving a notice in the mail.  The unsuspecting driver will open their mailbox to discover that the DMV has either ordered them in for re-examination or that the department has peremptorily suspended their privilege to drive.

If the DMV takes a direct suspension or revocation action against a person’s driving privilege, the driver will receive an Order of Suspension/Revocation.  The notice will advise the driver their driving privilege has been suspended and will document the effective date of the suspension and the reason the action was taken.  Finally, the notice will tell the driver that he or she does have a right to defend themselves at an Administrative Hearing.

How Did the DMV Discover I Suffered a Lapse of Consciousness or Control?

The California Department of Motor Vehicles is hard-wired into the fabric of our society and thus receives information about drivers’ medical conditions through a variety of sources.

  • Law Enforcement Officers or other First Responders: Because emergency personnel are often the first people at the scene of a medical emergency, they will often learn of a driver’s Lapse of Consciousness and may report the incident to the DMV.
  • Medical Professionals: Emergency Room doctors, family doctors and doctors of specialized medicine all share one thing in common.  If they learn that a person has suffered a Lapse of Consciousness or Control, they are mandated by State Law to report the event to the Department of Public Health, who then reports the event to the DMV.  Any physician who learns of a Lapse of Consciousness or control will prepare a Confidential Morbidity Report which documents the event.  Using this information, the DMV will often move directly to a preemptory suspension of the person’s driver license.
  • Friends, Family or Anonymous Sources: The DMV will investigate any report of a Lapse of Consciousness or Control, regardless of the source of information.  Often friends or family of the effected driver may report a Lapse of Consciousness or Control because they are concerned about the driver’s safety.  The DMV will also thoroughly investigate such reports even if the reporting party wishes to remain anonymous.
  • The Individual Driver: At times, the involved driver will bring themselves into DMV focus by revealing medical disorders while testing for the issuance or renewal of a driver license.

Why is the DMV Taking This Action Against Me?

California Vehicle Code Section 13953 authorizes the DMV to “forthwith and without hearing” suspend or revoke a person’s driver license if they have suffered any physical or mental event that is characterized by a Lapse of Consciousness.  This action is warranted to protect the safety of the driver and the general public.

A Lapse of Consciousness or Control may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition that can affect a person’s overall ability to drive.  Certainly, the possibility of suffering a Lapse of Consciousness while driving could have devastating consequences and therefore, the DMV will take a person off the road until they are convinced that driver’s medical condition is stable.

What are the Options to Protecting My Privilege to Drive?

If the Department of Motor Vehicles suspends or revokes a person’s privilege to drive for a Lapse of Consciousness or Control, the effected driver does have the right to defend themselves at a Administrative Hearing known as a Lapse of Consciousness Hearing.  At the hearing, the driver is permitted to present a case to either refute the allegation they suffered a Lapse of Consciousness, or to present evidence which demonstrates their medical disorder is stable enough to return to driving.

If a driver seeks to defend themselves at an administrative hearing, time is of the essence.  In most instances a driver must request their hearing in a specific period of time; usually 10 to 14 days.

Lapse of Consciousness Hearing Summary

The Lapse of Consciousness Hearing is a full-blown evidentiary hearing that is run much like a mini-trial.  Evidence is introduced and objections are entered.  Witnesses and experts may testify and legal arguments are heard.  To prevail at such a hearing requires a working knowledge of one’s medical condition, the California Vehicle Code, the Health & Safety Code and the California Administrative Procedures Act.  Such a hearing can be confusing and frustrating, but drivers are permitted to be represented by a DMV Defense Expert, known as an Administrative Advocate.

Once the DMV suspends or revokes a driver license for a Lapse of Consciousness, the privilege will remain suspended forever or until such time as the driver presents evidence of their ability to safely return to driving.  If you want to defend your privilege to drive you can request your own Lapse of Consciousness Hearing.  If you would like representation, DMV Administrative Advocates  can assist you in preparing your defense and provides a greater likelihood of victory.  You can also learn more and study a complete overview of the Lapse of Consciousness hearing procedure here.

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