Could Your Driver's License Be At Risk?



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The DMV Position

In the interest of fairness, we wanted to give the DMV the opportunity to weigh in on how they view the role they play in the driver reporting process. Brandy Brubaker, Communications Director for the Virginia DMV answered the following questions:

Does the DMV or the Medical Advisory Board utilize any specific or general guidance to determine whether the reported driver is indeed a ‘serious and imminent’ threat before immediately suspending a driving license, or does the DMV feel that any medical professional is in the best position to make that determination?

DMV’s goal is to allow individuals to drive for as long as they can safely operate a motor vehicle. The agency intervenes if we have reason to believe that the individual may be an unsafe driver.  DMV accepts reports of potentially unsafe drivers from law enforcement, medical professionals, judges, DMV representatives, concerned citizens and friends and family. DMV investigates reports and may require a driver to provide a medical/vision report from a healthcare provider, complete driver’s license knowledge and/or road skills testing or to provide a medical report from a healthcare provider. If DMV’s investigation determines that the driver has a condition that affects driving ability, the agency may take one of several actions, based on the severity of the condition, such as restrict or suspend driving privileges or require periodic medical reports.

While the Medical Advisory Board does not individually review every case, it does provide advice to the commissioner. The Medical Advisory Board consists of seven physicians appointed by the governor. Advice from the board is incorporated into agency policies which are used as guidance documents by the staff of Medical Review Services, all of whom are licensed practical nurses, and by the medical compliance officer who is a registered nurse.

Cases are submitted to the Medical Advisory Board for review when the situation is not addressed by these policies or when a case has been referred for an informal conference during which the customer is able to present information as to why they contest the action/requirements imposed by DMV.

Given the fact that there are vast variations in the levels of training that GPs and other non-specialists have in terms of cognitive testing, wouldn’t it make sense to have the driver submit to a more extensive examination by a neurologist or geriatric specialist prior to suspension regardless of who made the original report?

We can request that a driver obtain a medical report from a medical specialist, if we feel it will assist us in making a determination in their case.

If a GP allows a client to drive home from an appointment, then later anonymously reports the driver to the DMV, is that client really an ‘imminent’ threat to public safety? If the driver were a real threat, wouldn’t it make more sense for the physician to dial 911, or call a cab?

Virginia is not a mandatory reportable state; per state law, it is at the physician’s discretion whether they initially report their patients. As Virginia’s Highway Safety Office, we would advise anyone who believes a driver is an imminent threat to public safety to arrange alternative transportation for the individual or contact their local police department.

DMV isn’t required to question the action a physician takes when they have concerns about the ability of one of their patients to safely operate a motor vehicle. DMV reviews each impaired driver report submitted by a physician and takes appropriate action.

Does the Medical Advisory Board review the case of every reported driver prior to issuing a notice of suspension or only after a driver wants to appeal the order?

DMV reviews cases of individuals who may have health or medical conditions that impair or hinder their safe driving.  The review process ensures the safety of the individuals and all drivers sharing the road.

DMV’s goal is to allow individuals to drive for as long as they can safely operate a motor vehicle. A report of an impaired driver is reviewed in conjunction with our medical policies to determine whether to move forward with a medical review. The agency only intervenes if we have reason to believe that the individual may be an unsafe driver.  DMV investigates reports and may require a driver to submit a medical and/or vision report from a healthcare provider, knowledge and/or skills testing or to complete a driver evaluation conducted by a certified driver rehabilitation specialist.

If DMV’s investigation determines that the driver has a condition that affects driving ability, the agency may take one of several actions, based on the severity of the condition, such as restrict or suspend driving privileges or require periodic medical reports. If no such condition is found, no further action will be requested.

Cases are submitted to the Medical Advisory Board for review when the situation is not addressed by these policies or when a case has been referred for an informal conference during which the customer is able to present information as to why they contest the action/requirement imposed by DMV.

How do you determine what you consider a “serious and imminent” threat that warrants immediate suspension, without a 15-day notice?

Safe driving requires knowledge, skills and keen physical and mental abilities. DMV is concerned with any condition that alters the driver’s level of consciousness, vision, judgment and/or motor skills. DMV reviews individuals who may have physical or mental conditions that impair or hinder their safe driving. The review process ensures the safety of the individual and all drivers sharing the road.

Virginia Code gives DMV the ability to act immediately if we have good cause to believe a driver may endanger public safety. As the state’s highway safety office, we must balance the importance of the ability to drive with our need to protect all those who share our roadways from drivers we have good cause to believe may endanger public safety. It is a difficult task but one we take very seriously and certainly never lightly.

The 2013 Mature Driver Study: Is there Age-related Bias?

The result of studies in the U.S. and U.K. show that healthy older drivers are no more unsafe than other age groups, though the potential for death or serious injury resulting from an accident is increased because older drivers often aren’t as resilient as their younger counterparts and less able to survive serious injury. But as increasing numbers of mature drivers traverse our roadways (an estimated 57 million baby boomers will make up approximately a quarter of all licensed drivers by 2030), there has emerged a national discussion on how such a transformational event will impact public safety. In some states, the discussion has turned into a debate as stakeholders try to find a balance between individual freedoms and public safety.

In January 2013, as directed by the chairmen of the House and Senate Transportation Committees, the Virginia DMV established a stakeholder group to study “whether the Commonwealth should adopt additional objective criteria in current license renewal requirements as a means of assessing mature drivers ‘continued capability to remain active, safe, independent and mobile on the road as they age, and to better prepare the Commonwealth for an aging driving population.” A group of over 40 stakeholders participated in the study, and their recommendations addressed three areas: Driver Licensing, Medical Review, Outreach and Education. The resulting was the Mature Drivers Study, 2013 Report.

One of the most significant results of the study was the passage of legislation amending §46.2-330 of the Code of Virginia. Effective January 1, 2015, the statutory age for mandatory in-person license renewal for mature drivers was lowered from age 80 to age 75, and licenses issued to persons age 75 or older will be valid for no more than five years, as opposed to the current eight-year license. This legislation makes sense.

However, the study’s medical committee also discussed some rather slippery slope options that would certainly draw fire should they ever be seriously considered, such as providing confidentiality and immunity to all individuals who report a potentially impaired driver, not just medical professionals and relatives.

Senior advocate organizations like AARP support safe driving initiatives as long as they are based on the health and ability of the driver, not age.

AARP was one of the stakeholder organizations involved in the Mature Drivers Study. David DeBiasi, AARP Virginia’s associate state advocacy director, reports that to date, AARP Virginia is not aware of any age-related bias as a result of the study and that they do not see any legislative changes on the horizon that might unfairly impact older drivers in the commonwealth. Good news, for now.

Do you know someone who has experienced a license suspension under circumstances similar to Grayson’s? Share your comments with other Coastal Virginia readers below.

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