WHY DOES THE CALIFORNIA DMV SUSPEND A DRIVER LICENSE FOR PARKINSON’S DISEASE?Category:
WHY DOES THE CALIFORNIA DMV SUSPEND
A DRIVER’s LICENSE FOR PARKINSON'S?
Extractions from California Drivers Advocates
If you are not in California, check your State’s Department of Automobile Licensing.
Once a person is licensed to drive motor vehicles in the State of California, they forever remain under the watchful eye of the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). One of the DMV’s primary functions is to ensure all drivers on California roadways maintain the physical and mental fitness for driving. If at any time, the DMV were to receive information that a driver may no longer possess the requisite ability to drive, the department will begin an investigation to determine if a driver’s license suspension or revocation is warranted.
California Vehicle Code section 13953 empowers the DMV to immediately and without a hearing, suspend or revoke the driving privilege of any driver who may pose an immediate hazard to the motoring public. One of the most profound physical or mental conditions a driver may develop that will cause the DMV to take such immediate action is a diagnosis with any disease or disorder that affects cognition or motor skills.
Some of the most common disorders that cause the DMV to suspend or revoke a driver’s license are:
Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease
Any seizure disorder such as Epilepsy
Sleep Disorders such as Narcolepsy or Sleep Apnea
Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. It develops gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. But while a tremor may be the most well-known sign of Parkinson’s, the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement.
In the early stages of Parkinson’s, your face may show little or no expression, or your arms may not swing when you walk. Your speech may become soft or slurred. Parkinson’s symptoms may worsen as your condition progresses over time.
Although Parkinson’s can’t be cured, medications may markedly improve your symptoms. In occasional cases, your doctor may suggest surgery to regulate certain regions of your brain and improve your symptoms.
The danger in driving is that Parkinson’s may eventually affect both your motor skills and cognition.
Motor Skills: A Parkinson’s patient may experience some changes in their visuospatial skills. This essentially means that one’s ability to gauge the distance to a stop sign or other vehicles. It may affect one’s ability to maintain a safe lane position. Parkinson’s will often cause problems with muscle tightness or rigidity that can impair one’s ability to react quickly to emergencies or changing track patterns.
Cognitive Skills: Cognitive function refers to one’s ability to receive and process incoming information by using perception, reasoning, judgment, intuition, and memory. It is not uncommon for a Parkinson’s patient to become confused when driving.
Because Parkinson’s may eventually impact the person’s ability for critical thinking, cognition, and multi-tasking, allowing them to drive could have deadly consequences.
A 1999 study by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control found that with people aged 65 to 74, motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of injury-related death. Clearly, as a person ages, they become frail and are not quite as able to survive trauma as a younger person.
Accordingly, if the DMV receives information that a driver has received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s, the department will initiate an investigation to assess the person’s fitness to continue driving. The department’s investigation can seem probative, impersonal, and onerous. To the affected driver, it can seem that they are being treated like a criminal and for that person, the loss of their driving freedom can be devastating.
How does the DMV suspend the driver's license of a person with Parkinson’s? The DMV’s “Re-Examination” process is essentially broken down into three progressive stages:
At the Notification stage, the DMV may receive notice from a variety of sources that a driver has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s or some other medical disorder that may affect motor skills or cognition. The most common means by which the DMV learns a person has Parkinson’s is:
Physician’s report: In California, all physicians are mandated by law to report any diagnosis that may affect one’s ability to drive to the California Department of Public Health. The doctor will prepare a Confidential Morbidity Report that briefly documents how he or she came into contact with the patient and the symptoms observed. Once the Department of Public Health receives the report, it is then mandated to pass the report onto the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Referral from family members: In some instances, a driver may not recognize that he or she is beginning to lose proper driving skills and cognition. In other instances, the affected driver may choose to ignore obvious signs of a problem. In either case, it is not uncommon for family members to report the driver to the DMV in the interest of protecting their loved ones and other drivers.
Referral from friends or neighbors: It is common for friends or neighbors to see or hear something that gives them concern that a driver no longer possesses the ability to drive as a result of Parkinson’s and may report them to the DMV.
Referral from anonymous sources: Because the DMV is mandated to investigate all reports of medical disorders which affect driving, it will also initiate an investigation when it receives information from a person who wishes to remain anonymous; and will work to protect the anonymity of the reporting party.
Self-Reporting by the Driver: At times, the individual driver may be the source of the DMV’s information. At times, a driver may be experiencing body tremors while testing to renew their driver's license. At other times, the affected driver may enter the DMV and making inquiries regarding the effect of Parkinson’s on their ability to drive. All DMV employees are empowered to report issues of concern to the Driver Safety Office.
For further reading and information, you may go to the California Drivers Advocates site.