I am a Type-1, insulin dependent diabetic. My first encounter with receiving a license suspension diabetes was in the early 1990’s when I received a three day notice of Suspension from the DMV. Apparently, my endocrinologist went on vacation and passed my file to a general practitioner who was not fully briefed on my condition and did not know much about diabetes. This fellow decided, on a simple review of my file, that I was “hypoglycemic unaware”, a condition where one is unable to tell when their blood sugar levels are dropping below normal, and thus my condition was too dangerous for me to drive a car safely on the highways. When I contacted my endocrinologist and asked him to correct the file, he refused. Even though he knew the report was wrong, he stated that he couldn’t contradict the medical opinion from another physician in his group. He was apologetic but would do nothing for me. (Needless to say, I no longer see that doctor!).
As a result of this miscarriage of medical “justice” I demanded a hearing with the DMV and introduced testimony from a new doctor. This doctor tested my medical condition and demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that I did not suffer from this condition. My driver’s license was returned to me.but I got a valuable lesson on the DMV and how it works in the process.
That experience was the starting point for a new focus of my practice- DMV diabetes law.
What did I learn from this experience? There are some simple precepts that one is advised to consider when dealing with DMV diabetes California law:
- Driving in the State of California is not a privilege. It is an important property right and you cannot be deprived of that right without due process of law. For years the DMV was telling us that driving was a privilege, not a right. However, the Supreme Court of California has held, as a matter of law, that driving is an important property right which cannot be taken away from you without due process of law.
- DMV officers know very little about the medical conditions that they assess. There is no substitute to having a competent expert testify on your behalf at a DMV hearing. If you attend without an expert, you will almost always lose your case.and your license. With an expert who has experience in handling these hearings your chances of winning increase dramatically.
- Unlike most DUIs, you not only can have your license suspended, but it can be permanently revoked if your medical condition is considered too dangerous for you to drive safely.
- A revocation of your driver’s license needn’t be permanent. Even if your license has been previously revoked you can have it reinstalled if you are able to demonstrate that you can drive safely.
- Always present your case in writing, and tape record the hearing (which you have a right to do). This creates a record for an appeal if you lose and discourages over-enthusiastic hearing officers from ruling against you in any case.
- Look forward, not backward. Your goal in your hearing should usually be to focus on the future, not the past. With only rare exceptions, it does not benefit for you to argue the facts of your condition with a police officer or the hearing officer, (my case was one of these exceptions) but rather to demonstrate that you have a plan for the future that will help ensure that you can drive safely.
- Never rely on the opinion of a single doctor. Always get a second opinion, and involve your lawyer when it comes to retaining that expert.
- Research you condition and how the DMV regards it before you go to the hearing.
- Have a plan to develop tighter control of your blood glucose levels that you can bring with you to the hearing. Be prepared to show that you have already implemented this plan. At a base minimum you should begin attending diabetes education classes before the hearing that will help you to take tighter control over your condition. There are almost always actions that you can take that will insure that you can drive safely. For example, if you suffer from hypoglycemic unawareness (a condition where your blood sugar will drop without you being aware of it) there are devices that are now available in California that will address this condition. Medtronic now has a continuous glucose monitoring (“CGMS”) system for insulin dependent diabetics that will tell you if your blood sugar level is dropping. This device tests your blood levels every five minutes, 24 hours a day. An alarm goes off if your glucose level drops below a pre-set level. This device has been tested on hundreds of patients who suffer from hypoglycemic unawareness, and not one of them has ever had a hypoglycemic incident while driving with this device.
- Bring a lawyer with you to the hearing. Hearing officers tend to follow procedures more carefully when they know that a competent attorney is watching them when they render their decision. Without an attorney you are likely to lose your case (and your license.) Your attorney will also be able to help plead your case for you, and help you to avoid the pitfalls that most unrepresented drivers fall into.