Dementia

Winding Road Street Sign

If Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) receives a report about a driver with dementia, DMV must follow up by sending the reported driver to get a driver medical evaluation. In such situations, DMV does not take action without information from the driver’s doctor.

What is Dementia?

Dementia describes a group of degenerative brain disorders that affect memory, language, reasoning and problem-solving skills. Dementia disorders are generally progressive, meaning they get increasingly worse over time, and they seriously affect a person’s ability to drive safely.

How Moderate and Severe Dementia Affect Driving

People with moderate or severe dementia will not be able to safely operate a motor vehicle because their driving skills and physical and mental abilities have deteriorated in the following ways:

  • Consciousness – Inability to respond rationally to the environment. For example, what is seen is not comprehended. This can lead to serious accidents.
  • Cognitive Processing – Inability to remember the destination. Inattentive to external stimuli such as pedestrians or oncoming traffic. Judgment is slow or poor in traffic situations.
  • Strength and Coordination – Muscle control is weak and reflexes are too slow to react appropriately to traffic situations or hazards.

The cognitive and physical abilities of drivers who have been diagnosed with moderate or severe dementia will have deteriorated to such an extent that driving would be unsafe, and their driving privilege will be revoked.

Can I get a driver license (DL) if I have dementia?

Drivers who have been diagnosed with dementia must attend a reexamination and must take a driver safety knowledge test. If the driver passes the test, then they  may be asked to take a special driving Test or a Supplemental Driver Performance Evaluation.

If the driving test is satisfactory, DMV will schedule a reexamination within 6-12 months to reassess the progression of dementia. This is because mild dementia can rapidly progress to moderate or severe, even if the driver is not aware of that.

If the driver’s faculties are significantly impaired, or if they are significantly mentally and physically incapacitated, DMV may take action such as revoking a DL.

Reexamination is only appropriate for drivers whose dementia is diagnosed as mild and who have not had action taken against their driving privilege. Reexamination is done in person in an interview format so DMV can assess things like awareness and perception and decide if further action is necessary.

Drivers with a medical diagnosis of moderate to severe dementia are not eligible for reexamination because the disease has progressed to such a point that it is no longer safe for the person to drive.

If action has already been taken against your driving privilege, you will attend an in-person interview and hearing to help DMV assess awareness, cognitive processes, and perception. This is investigative, and you will be expected to answer general questions such as name, address, or type of insurance, along with questions about the your health, medical treatment, driving record, need to drive, daily routine, and the need for assistance with daily activities. These questions can help identify a deterioration in language processing skills and indicate some impairment of cognitive abilities.

A knowledge test is used to determine the driver’s mental competency, cognitive, and language skills. The knowledge test  helps DMV determine if a driver has deteriorating reading and comprehension skills. If they do, they may also have impaired cognitive and awareness skills, which can affect their ability to safely drive a motor vehicle.

The hearing officer must determine if a poor score on the knowledge test merely indicates a lack of knowledge, or indicates that the driver has difficulty reading and comprehending the questions.

The following will be considered when evaluating the knowledge test results:

  • How long did it take the driver to complete the written exam?
  • How many questions did the driver miss?
  • Was the driver able to answer the missed questions when verbally restated?
  • Could the driver’s knowledge be improved by studying the handbook?

If the driver fails the knowledge test after the questions were restated verbally, and it is determined the driver’s failure is due to a lack of knowledge, their driving privilege will be suspended (as stated in California Vehicle Code (CVC) §13953).

If the driver is unable to coherently answer the hearing officer’s questions during the reexamination, or the driver fails the knowledge test after the questions were restated verbally and medical documentation indicates mild dementia, the driving privilege will be revoked (as stated in CVC §13953). The driver may request a hearing after receiving notice of revocation. The issue to consider at a hearing is whether the driver’s cognitive skills and memory are keen enough to proceed safely with a special drive test.

The answers given during the in-person contact, together with the results of the knowledge test, provide the hearing officer with an estimation of the driver’s memory and cognitive skills

The Supplemental Driver Performance Evaluation (SDPE) helps DMV assess the driver’s ability to concentrate, perceive the world around them, pay attention, and make safe driving decisions. 

A SDPE is only appropriate if a driver receives a medical diagnosis of mild dementia, passes the knowledge and vision tests, and coherently answers questions in the hearing with the hearing officer.

If the results of the special drive test are satisfactory, the driver will be scheduled for a re-examination in 6-12 months. 

Drivers should be reevaluated in 6 months or less when the results of the knowledge and drive tests are marginal and the dementia is not expected to progress rapidly.

If the results of the special drive test or SDPE are unsatisfactory, the driving privilege will be revoked as stated in CVC §13953.

A driver may request a hearing after receiving notice of the revocation. It is the hearing officer’s discretion to determine whether it is safe to allow the driver to take another SDPE.

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