Empowering California Drivers

To Maintain Their Driving Privilege

Special Certificate Hearings

What is a Special Certificate?

 Every day in the State of California, our public roadways are bustling with activity.  Surface streets and highways are occupied by drivers who operate a wide variety of motor vehicles.  Soccer moms taking their children to practice, limousine drivers transporting their customers, and semi-truck drivers moving our nation’s cargo.  Each of these drivers will have been screened and vetted to qualify to drive their particular class of vehicle.

It is the duty of the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to ensure that each driver possesses the skill and knowledge to safely operate their chosen vehicle.  For example, the soccer mom must qualify for a Class “C” driver license while the semi-truck driver must qualify for the commercial Class “A” driver license.  Each class of driver license carries its own specific requirements for training, knowledge and skill before it can be issued to a driver.

In addition to the varying class of driver licenses, there exist a specific group of drivers who are held to even higher standards before being permitted to operate certain classes of vehicles.  In addition to the requirement they possess either Class “A” or Class “B” driver licenses, these specific drivers are also required to maintain special authorization to operate their specialized vehicles.  Before being permitted to operate these classes of vehicles, the driver is required to be vetted for the issuance of a Special Certificate. Special Certificate Holders must undergo specific background checks and must maintain a higher level of personal and professional conduct than any other driver. There are essentially three categories of driver who must possess a Special Certificate to operate their vehicles:

  • School Bus Driver: There is absolutely no question school bus drivers represent the pinnacle of professional drivers.  Each day, these drivers are trusted to transport our most precious cargo—our nation’s children.  As a result, society expects these drivers to possess the highest level of training, experience and knowledge; but society should also be able to trust that these drivers are held to the highest level of professional and personal conduct.
  • Ambulance Driver: When a patient is placed into an ambulance they are often in a vulnerable position and may not be in a position to care for themselves.  In this state, the patient must be able to trust that the State of California has ensured that the driver of the ambulance is a person of good character and moral fiber.
  • Tow Truck Driver: Tow truck drivers are called to the scene of traffic accidents and disabled vehicles. They are often trusted to accept custody of a person’s vehicle which may also contain that persons’ personal property.  As such, society must be able to trust that tow truck drivers have been investigated to ensure their trustworthiness.

The holder of a Special Certificate is subject to constant review and monitoring.  If a Special Certificate holder is involved in any incident which brings into question their training, experience, physical or mental health, or their integrity and trustworthiness; they are subject to the revocation of the Special Certificate.  The individual driver’s need to drive is secondary to the standards that must be maintained to hold a Special Certificate.

Why does the DMV Revoke a Special Certificate?

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is the sole government agency possessing the power to issue driver licenses, endorsements and Special Certificates; which means the department also is empowered to withdraw the Special Certificate of any driver if they believe there is good cause to do so.  The California Vehicle Code is written in such a fashion as to grant the DMV the authority to revoke the Special Certificate of any driver for reasons that fall far short of that required to suspend or revoke a driver license.  In short, the DMV is empowered to revoke a Special Certificate for virtually any reason.

Normally, the DMV will refuse to issue a Special Certificate to an applicant; or will revoke the existing Special Certificate of any driver when the department receives information that a driver does not meet the “high standards” required of such a driver.  Some of the more common reasons for the DMV to refuse or revoke a Special Certificate are:

–Arrests for criminal activity even if no conviction occurs.

–Investigations by police agencies even if no arrest occurs.

–History of moving violations indicating negligent operation.

–History of traffic accidents indicating negligent operation.

–Medical, physical or mental disorders.

–Any act of “moral turpitude” that effects public trust.

There is no question that the DMV possesses the nearly unbridled power to refuse or revoke a Special Certificate at will.  Even though the DMV must have a valid reason for taking such an action, that “reason” may be nearly benign in the scheme of the world.  Nonetheless the loss of a Special Certificate can have a devastating impact on a person’s employment and therefore, must be taken seriously.

What is a Special Certificate Hearing?

The privilege to be awarded a Special Certificate is not guaranteed.  Additionally, being awarded a Special Certificate does not guarantee the right to maintain the privilege.  As stated above, the DMV possesses the nearly unbridled power to effect a person’s employment by refusing to issue or to revoke a Special Certificate.  This is no small event and can have serious consequences for the affected driver.

If the DMV refuses to issue a Special Certificate to an applicant; or if the department revokes an existing Special Certificate from a driver, that person is entitled to Procedural Due Process.  Essentially, this means the driver is entitled to defend themselves before the DMV.  The process by which a driver fights for the issuance or reinstatement of their Special Certificate is by scheduling and conducting a Special Certificate Hearing.

A Special Certificate Hearing is a full-blown evidentiary hearing run in accordance with the rules and regulations of the California Code of Civil Procedures and Administrative Procedures Act.  Such a hearing is run like a mini-trial and includes the introduction and evaluation of evidence.  The hearing may also include the testimony of law enforcement officers and other witnesses.  Objections are heard and decided and legal arguments are considered.

When the Special Certificate Hearing is concluded, the DMV Hearing Officer makes a written recommendation for resolution which is then forwarded to a review board in Sacramento.  It is the purview of the review board to render a final decision to adopt the Hearing Officer’s recommendation or to reverse or amend the recommendation.  The review board’s decision is final.


Once a Special Certificate is issued, the driver must maintain the document in good standing.  If a Special Certificate is denied or revoke, it will most certainly cause the driver’s loss of employment.   When the DMV initiates the denial or revocation of a Special Certificate it is normal for the affected driver to experience a variety of emotions that run from anger to fear.   Once the initial impact of the DMV’s involvement passes, however, the driver must pick themselves up and begin the battle of protecting their future.

Special Certificate hearings are extremely complicated and very difficult to win without a working knowledge of various areas of law.  If you want to defend your privilege to drive Specialized Vehicles, you can request your own Special Certificate 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 Special Certificate hearing procedure.

Talk to a DMV Defense Expert