License Issues Relating to Drug Use or Risk of Relapse

Most people are aware (or become aware) that any conviction for a drug offense, or any offense under Chapter 481 of the Texas Health and Safety Code (where the drug offenses are, generally) will automatically suspend a person’s driver’s license for a period of 180 days. What is less-known, however, is that the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)(which issues driver’s licenses and enforces suspensions) also has the ability to attempt to suspend a person’s driver’s license where the person has become incapable of safely operating a vehicle because of drug use or abuse, or faces a substantial risk of relapse into regular drug use.

 

DPS

 

DPS is charged with making sure all people to whom it issues a driver’s license are capable of “safely operating a vehicle.” For example, DPS “may not issue a driver’s license to…a person who is shown to be addicted to the use of alcohol, a controlled substance, or another drug that renders a person incapable of driving.” Texas Trans. Code s521.201(3). We know, then, that DPS will not issue a license to a person who is not capable of driving due to drug use. But what if a person already has a license and has current or past issues with drug use? Under such circumstances DPS can attempt to revoke or suspend a person’s license when DPS believes the person cannot safely operate a vehicle because of drug use or abuse, regardless of when the use/abuse occurred.

 

Medical Advisory Board

 

But how would DPS know, and who advises DPS as to whether a person with substance abuse issues is, in fact, incapable of safely operating a vehicle. In Texas, there is a medical advisory board (MAB) who are appointed by the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to review medical documentation and records relating to a person’s ability to drive in Texas. The MAB then provides the Department of Public Safety (DPS) with a recommendation as to whether the person is fit to drive or not. A person can be referred to the MAB for multiple reasons, including repeated convictions for offenses related to alcohol or drugs. It is, however, not necessary that the current attempt by DPS to suspend or revoke a person’s license due to drug use be attached to a current criminal conviction for a drug offense. In fact, it need not accompany a current criminal conviction of any kind, or even a conviction or criminal charge!

 

Current Use

 

From the Texas Medical Advisory Board’s “Guide For Determining Driver Limitation”: “Applicants who are known to be abusing any type of drug should not be allowed any type of license.” Meaning, of course, that a person who is known to currently be using/abusing any type of drug will not be issued a license, or, will have their existing license revoked/suspended. Proof of use/abuse can be furnished to the MAB by medical record or records from police. DPS requires that a one-year driving restricted period be imposed, and that (to re-obtain the ability to drive) no evidence of use/abuse within that year period.

 

Past Use/Risk of Relapse

 

But DPS also can suspend “if an applicant has a history of multiple episodes of drug use and/or abuse and the available evidence indicates a substantial risk of relapse into chronic use and/or abuse, a denial on those grounds may be issued, regardless of the date of the most recent use and/or abuse.” (Texas Medical Advisory Board, “Guide for Determining Driver Limitation,” at page 26. ) Meaning, even if there has been no recent drug use, if evidence suggests a substantial risk of relapse into regular drug use, DPS can still suspend a person’s license.

 

Due Process

 

However, before DPS can suspend a person’s ability to drive the person is entitled to due process—namely, a hearing to contest the recommendation of suspension by the MAB. At the hearing, the person should be prepared to provide medical documents or other documentation indicating that the person is able to safely operate a vehicle.  Generally, this would be in the form of documentation showing no recent drug use for a significant period of time, and that the person is actively taking steps to prevent relapse (such as counseling, for example.)

 

Methadone?

 

There is additionally a provision in the MAB “Guide for Determining Driver Limitations” that provides that if a person is under a recognized methadone maintenance program, the person may drive so long as a physician establishes that he is drug free and has been for three (3) months. (6 months for a CDL.)