My Recent Ride with PD & the DMV License Renewal Process – By Michelle Cheeseman

pdactivephotopddmv11202018.jpgIn Outing Yourself to the DMV — OR NOT, Gary Sue Goodman writes: “To guide my interactions with this bureaucracy, I wanted the benefits of other people’s experience. PD Active, I thought, could provide such valuable information (1).” When my CA State driver license was up for renewal this past summer, little did I know I’d end up having several communications with the DMV. I’m sharing with you the journey or ride I had during the license renewal process. May this information be of some value to you as you prepare for your own ride!

The driver license renewal form I received in June included the question: “Have you had any medical conditions in the past three (3) years affecting your ability to drive? See Medical Information on p.1 before responding to the question.” Had “Parkinson’s disease” not been one of the medical conditions listed in Medical Information, my inclination would have been to identify the possible responses to the question and then to consider the advantages and implications of each one. As it was on the list, my propensity to be risk-averse prevailed: I checked the “yes” box and wrote “Parkinson’s disease.” For me, this was the appropriate decision to make.

Until receiving the “response letter of notification” (2) that a reexamination form was in the mail, I hadn’t known my disclosure of PD would set in motion an extended re-examination period; weeks of mostly completing forms to generate data for the DMV to use in determining whether my “alertness, strength, physical coordination, agility, judgment, attention, knowledge, and skill” met driver-safety criteria (Driver Safety Information Medical Conditions and Traffic Safety, DMV website).

Enclosed with the response letter of notification were two medical forms due back in three weeks’ time: For me to complete, a questionnaire on symptomatology and medication and, for my neurologist to write, a comprehensive medical evaluation of my overall health including my vision and cognitive functioning.

The subsequent arrival of my birthday signified my CA driver license had expired. Precisely when, legally, I was not permitted to drive a vehicle, I learned from a notice of reexamination appointment I’d been scheduled to attend a hearing in Orange. I immediately phoned the DMV in Orange and was assured a mistake had been made, and I would not have to travel eleven hours for a hearing. Moreover, I learned my record would be sent to Oakland and, within two business weeks, I would receive an amended notice of my appointment. (It turned out to be three business weeks.)

A month later, when I reported to the El Cerrito DMV for the rescheduled hearing, the Hearing Officer informed me the session would be recorded; also, that she’d already reviewed my driving and medical records. For an hour, the Hearing Officer asked me questions about my symptomatology, medication, and my life with PD. One question pertained to “lapses in consciousness.”

At that, the Hearing Officer stopped recording and informed me she’d approve the renewal of my driver license; pending successful completion of a supplemental drive test, for which she gave me preparation materials and a temporary license. Meanwhile, I would not have to have my vision checked or take a written test.

When drive-test day finally came five weeks later, I submitted the required proof of insurance and current registration. Then, after the drive-test examiner went down the checklist of Vehicle Requirements, I spent the next 50 minutes driving us along local roads and on the freeway. Before returning to the DMV, I had to demonstrate I could back up my car in a straight line for 20 feet. Had I passed the driving test?! No. First, I’d have to take a vision test (I’d been told otherwise) and complete another license renewal application. I kept my thoughts to myself and complied.

Finally, I was given a form on which the result was checked off. The outcome was, “Congratulations! You passed your drive test!!! You are medically cleared to drive at this time.” And, in her own handwriting, the Hearing Officer had written, “Take care!” My new and official driver license would arrive in the mail on October 10th, a date I’ll surely remember.

My overall post-ride perspective is, my interactions with the century-old bureaucratic DMV were mostly positive and instructive. And, ultimately, I achieved what I’d wanted from the outset – having my CA driver license renewed.

Given the general progression of medical conditions like PD (and the effects of aging, too), I expect my driving ability will continue to change over time; that there are more rides to come. When they do come, I hope to navigate them with the benefit of knowing about the experiences of others like YOU.

Some Nuts & Bolts of the License Renewal Process

If your license is up for renewal, you may want to consider these nuts & bolts:
  • Befriend the DMV website: Find forms and FAQs at www.dmv.ca.gov.
  • Initiate the renewal process as soon as possible to avoid having your license expire.
  • Be conscious of how and when your symptoms present: Attempt to schedule your interactions with the DMV according to when you are functioning best. Consider what you would say if you were symptomatic.
  • Allot time to the medical evaluation component: Upon receipt of the evaluation form, and per the provider’s agreement, confirm the evaluation gets completed and sent in.
  • Know the facts and people’s experiences: It’s a fact that all hearings are recorded. In my experience, I answered questions regarding my symptoms, medications, life with PD, and cognitive function. The Hearing Officer told me I did not have to take the written or vision tests (which was incorrect) and would have to take the Supplemental Area Driving Performance Evaluation. She also approved me to have a temporary license.
  • Be prepared and accept the unexpected: Study California Driving Test Criteria and How to Prepare for Your Driving Test.

The last nut & bolt to consider is: I succeeded in having my driver license renewed. You can, too!