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 Marcia Purse

Has Mental Illness Impacted Your Driving or Driver License?

By July 3, 2009

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Do you remember the last time you updated your driver license and how they ask you all the various questions? Do you need corrective lenses? Are you currently holding a driver license from another state? Is your driver license currently suspended revoked? Do you want to be an organ donor? Do you have any condition that may impair your ability to drive? And so on.

Apparently in some states, the required disclosures include statements about mental or emotional impairments that may affect driving safety.

A mother recently shared with us that her twenty-one year old son was asked on his driver license application if he had any mental illnesses. He was honest and said he had bipolar disorder. He was issued a license, but pending an investigation of the extent to which his mental illness might impair his driving. Medical forms were sent to his psychiatrist, but they were never returned to the department of motor vehicles and the state suspended his license. Ouch!

A couple of years ago, PegHost divulged a personal experience with learning the fact that the laws do apply to prescriptions as it relates to driving under the influence. She shares, “I am writing to share with you a harsh lesson I learned through a personal experience. I hope my incident will help others avoid a similar debacle. DUI means driving under the influence of not only alcohol and illegal drugs, but also medications prescribed by our doctors. If you don't know your meds, find out about them. Then get a second opinion before you get behind the wheel of a car!”

We haven’t talked about driving and mental illnesses a lot so I thought I would see what your experiences are with this. Have you had run-ins with law because an episode or a prescription messed with your ability to drive? Does your state’s department of motor vehicles ask about mental or emotional impairments to driving on their application? If so, how have you answered this question? Share your experiences with a comment and take our poll.

Comments
July 4, 2009 at 8:15 pm
(1) Sharon says:

When my son got his license at 18, they asked if he had been under care for a mental health condition over the last 2 years. He answered yes and had to go through all kinds of paperwork to list the meds he was on and his doctor’s name. They did give him his license but could just as easily have denied it. I will face this same issue next year when I renew mine. One more thing about Texas to make me want to high-tail it out of here.

July 4, 2009 at 10:54 pm
(2) Melanie says:

I only recall that the questionaire for California asks if you have lapses in consciousness, but once I found this document of medical requirements, I was rather shocked at how wide they paint with the “unfit to drive” brush:

http://www.dmv.ca.gov/forms/dl/dl51.pdf

It says that you cannot get a license if you have a psychiatric disorder that is “likely” to interfere with your ability to drive. I would imagine that not being on meds for a bipolar might qualify for that, and that being on the right meds should help you be a better driver. I take Klonopin for anxiety and I make sure that I don’t go over 1 mg when I’m going to be driving. I’ve never been asked about it when pulled over, but I’ve been thoroughly checked for drugs and alcohol, when a policeman said he thought I was on “pain pills.” I passed with flying colors.

July 5, 2009 at 12:50 am
(3) jc says:

My wife of 25 years is BP I, w/psychosis. She has been on a manic power toot for 2 months. She will not take the antipsychotic prescribed by her psychiatrist. I took possession of her drivers license, car keys, credit cards, passport, bank book ,keys to the mailbox, access to internet & email, etc., etc. & have no intention of reinstating those to her or permitting her to drive until she is stable. She may not get them then. She is mad. (Haha; a manic BP’er mad!) I suppose she is going to crash, burn out, & fall into depression. Seems a shame when a freaking pill could solve her problem. I suspect that eventually I will divorce her & she will become a homeless street person.

July 7, 2009 at 7:02 am
(4) daughterof1 says:

JC
while your at it check to make sure she’s not running rampant with cc’s you don’t know about! My mother’s bad driving was the least of her problems. Her QUACK doctor bought her sob story hook, line & sinker & thought sipping herb tea & sniffing incense would solve all her problems. And before I get anyone going off on a tangent about the benefits of herbal remedies I’m a firm believer in them in most cases like the ones I’m taking right now for my allergies

July 7, 2009 at 7:10 am
(5) Sue says:

I recently renewed my license. I was asked if I had any mental disorders “that would impair my driving ability”. I told the attendant that I took medication for bipolar. She said “that’s OK, it doesn’t affect your ability to drive, right? I stated “No, I have no problems driving”. End of story.

July 7, 2009 at 11:24 am
(6) Ruby says:

I answered YES this last time on my driver’s license and almost wished I hadn’t. At first the lady got all wigged out but once I got HER to calm down and listen to me, she was okay about it.I told her I take my meds. and I am fine; reminded her how long I have had my permit to drive and she decided I was okay. So glad in the state of Texas our abilities are being judged by people who know nothing about our conditions.I only told the truth because it clearly states IF we do not and get found out about falsifying info, we’ll be prosecuted.

July 7, 2009 at 11:39 am
(7) Keziah A. says:

I have anxiety so bad that I have never had a license and I am now 29!

July 7, 2009 at 12:23 pm
(8) Jennifer says:

Although in Louisiana they do not ask you such questions I have been told and warned by a friend that is a lawyer that if I was ever involved in a car accident and it went to court…. because of the warnings that are on your medications they could use this against you. This could mean monetary problems and possibly getting in trouble for a DUI… Now I drive like a grandma and it makes everyone riding with me insane but, sadly it mostly means if I feel even a little twitchy or mostly my problem…. drowsy…. I just stay home. Luckily, I have a friend who can bring me where I need to go. My bipolar is more under control that it ever has been in the 10 years since i’ve been diagnosed but I can honestly tell you THERE are days I have no business on the road.
Jen

July 7, 2009 at 4:03 pm
(9) Derald says:

For a long time now, I have ceased answering yes to a mental illness. I have studied how “technical” the government is about the information they ask of you, and how “accurate” they want that information! Now, if I am asked if I have a mental illness I say NO to them and anyone else that asks that question. The reason? “technically” bp disorder is an EMOTIONAL illness. If I ever get asked about it, I will say I was trying to give as accurate an answer as possible! Even when “friends” ask about my bp out of curiosity, I always answer that it is an emotional illness.

July 8, 2009 at 1:25 am
(10) Karen Tyrrell says:

I’m an Australian Driver. When I was Manic, I drove much faster and had several speeding fines which resulted in my Driver’s License being on probation for 12 months.
If I had admitted to Mental Illness my License would be suspended.

July 8, 2009 at 6:46 am
(11) S says:

I was asked that question in Indiana, but my husband was not! I have bipolar & was wondering if they could tell by looking at me! I answered “NO.” They didn’t put the statement in about it affecting your driving ability so I was afraid I would be denied if I answered honestly. Now when I even go in to get a title for a new car I get really anxious like they are looking at me funny & since I am so anxious, they probably are!

But how can they get away w/asking some people, but not all? I didn’t read anywhere that answering a personal question like that incorrectly could be used against you It was asked orally; I didn’t answer the question in written form.

But they don’t ask about other medical conditions that could cause problems w/your driving like diabetes (as w/low blood sugar you can become non-functioning & even act like you are drunk).

July 8, 2009 at 10:46 pm
(12) Tearful Pillow says:

When I renewed my license this last time I was asked if I had been “institutionalized”, had a “mental illness”…questions like that. I live in Texas. Since I received SS Disability my pdoc said that correct thing to have done was to tell the truth which I did. I filled out the extra paperwork & haven’t heard from them since – it’s been 3 yrs.

July 8, 2009 at 10:48 pm
(13) B says:

If you draw SS Disability how could you not answer truthfully?

July 9, 2009 at 9:53 am
(14) riverfork says:

Lithium and caffeine: I scraped a guardrail when I fell asleep while driving on a lonely road, apparently due to several days of caffeine withdrawl while taking lithium. My understanding is, either I need some caffeine regularly, or I must give it up. I’m careful about this now.

July 11, 2009 at 12:49 pm
(15) Suzy says:

I really don’t remember being asked but I know
if I ever were asked, there is no way in hell that I would offer that kind of information to
the registry – of all people! The truth of the
matter is: I have Bipolar II, and I take meds,
that keeps it under control. I have never been manic in my life, only hypomanic which of course, is a step down from manic. I don’t get anxiety or hypomania anymore now, since I have been taking my meds.

July 11, 2009 at 2:39 pm
(16) Bernice says:

I freaked out when I moved to TEXAS & had to answer that question on my form. I didn’t like the fact that it was a yes or no answer. I don’t remember but I think that I left that answer blank. I didn’t want to take the chance that the clerk would know anything about Mental Illness & Medications (which most people do.)

Good grief, most of us who have been on drowsy-inducing medications for years, the body has been able to tolerate it. I myself have been taking Depakote, Lamictal, Gabapentin for years & according to all of the warnings, I should be in a coma! The most problems I have is when driving is changing the temperature & fan speed.

Because I have a General Anxiety Disorder, I don’t do well in a pressured environment. There were many people behind me & it was bad enough that I had to argue to keep my Motorcycle Certification on my license. For me, one argument, is too much.

August 28, 2009 at 1:47 am
(17) robbi says:

I have never been asked that question before. But if I did,I would have lied. I agree with both Derold and S. One….it is an emotional illness and they don’t ask about other diseases or illnesses. Again I believe it could just be prejudice.

November 10, 2009 at 1:59 pm
(18) jules says:

I felt as though my privacy had been stripped from my hands,all the while waves of humiliation collided with anger. The DMV here in Colorado is forcing me to get a physical done,because when i moved here last year,i was sick when i went to the DMV to obtain my Drivers license, i did not realize i was so ill i couldnt pass the eye exam, two weeks later i was diagnosed being dehydrated and having salmonella. (I thought i was well enough to sit in a chair and wait around to take a picture) i have bipolar and my lithium levels were becoming toxic,because i was dehydrated,thus allowing me to not pass the eye exam. They said to come back within 90 days,after that it would be void. So.. a year later i went in healthy,and passed the eye exam with flying colors,the lady behind the counter said i would need a physical in order to obtain a drivers license,when i asked why she said there was no reason listed,just a note that demanded it be done. Today i finally got the physical, and on the form it asks for meds and everything,the doctor was not my primary doctor,he started acting really off standish wheni told him i had bipolar,it really pisses me off

March 16, 2011 at 4:51 pm
(19) Embarrassed@DMV says:

I too was afraid of not answering the question honestly. I also live in TX, btw. But, I love my city…(Austin). Anyway…yea, so I am also Bipolar (type II). I almost didn’t answer honestly, but when I saw the fine print, and being the incredibly upstanding and honest citizen and taxpayer that I am…I went ahead and answered it then ended up getting treated like Charlie Sheen by everyone in there. I ended up telling the lady behind the counter not to worry..that I wasn’t going to hurt her….lol. She was REALLY rude towards me. lol After I joked around with her a bit, she relaxed but wow. I think the timing of the whole Charlie Sheen thing really did not help my situation at all. Either way, I have yet to receive my renewed license in the mail…so I am really crossing my fingers as this is the first time I had to renew after my “official” diagnosis and meds, etc. We shall see!

January 11, 2012 at 6:27 pm
(20) Chet says:

I live in Oklahoma, I was asked about depression I filled out the paperwork, got letter from Dr ect only to find out I have to do this EVERY year!!!! Now I got DMV letter in the mail today and has to be in by Feb 15th so basically I have one month to get letters from my Doctors both psych and Regular Doctor. Not that I put it off, I could do nothing till I got the forms and I am in danger of loosing DL because I can not get an appointment and the letters filled out and to the DMV in 30 days!
I have lived in 6 different states and this is the first state I have had been questioned like this and treated harsher than a criminal of someone with a prior DUI. I have maintained a DL for 33 years and have had a clean driving record for well over 20 years.
signed,
Screwed because I am honest

February 10, 2012 at 4:09 pm
(21) bruno9999 says:

Recently I nenew my license in Texas and it ask on the application if I was being treatey for a psychiatric disorder, didn’t understand question so I answered no. Called the doctors office and ask them if what I was seeing the psychiatrist was a psychiatric disorder, and they told me yes. Call TXDPS and ask if I asnwered yes to question what would happen. The women on the other end got very excited and said of course you have to answer yes. So I ask her what would happen. She said I would need a letter from my doctor stating I was able to drive, and take the written and driving test all over again. Big mistake calling because she ask for my personal information. Now I’m sweating it out,seeing if their going to take my drivers license away.

March 25, 2012 at 5:28 pm
(22) William says:

Sounds like you are not considering other innocent drivers’ safety – pretty selfish!

December 12, 2012 at 7:06 pm
(23) Anna says:

No one is selfish except people that thinkl a BiPolar can’t drive as well as they can. Lithium does not dope a person up. Maybe other meds can but not most from bi-polar. Anyone that think a bi-polar is dangerous is watching to many movies. Oh and listeniong to the D.V.M. Don’t know which is worse. Gezzz,, people lighten up.

January 1, 2013 at 7:00 pm
(24) Honcho says:

I am a man in my mid-forties that has lived with a psychotic illness since my childhood. I have been in and out of institutions, hospitals, jails and prisons for my entire adult life. My mental illness has always been used against me and I have been on the receiving end of a lot of police brutality as a result of it. NEVER, EVER volunteer your illness to government agencies, schools or jobs. If you are on or filing for disability, the SSA are the only ones that have need of this information. DO NOT disclose your illness on your driver’s license. What would be a routine stop by the police will turn into a nightmare that you do not deserve.

Peace and Blessings

January 28, 2013 at 6:58 pm
(25) BeeBop says:

I live here in MD, an ultra-uber liberal state. The MVA here asks whether you have either schizophrenia or bipolar disorders. It’s none of their G-d dam business! I’m a responsible person and yes I have BPI. It’s called personal responsibility. We don’t need another nanny state like the idiot Mayor & Guv in NY. For those of you who “boo-hoo don’t be selfish now, think of others” think of it this way. It’s a very slippery slope folks. What’s next? Your sexual orientation? “Oh no, they can ask you that because that would be discrimination…” Uh hello? And asking me about my mental health is not? Go fly a kite.

March 11, 2013 at 10:25 pm
(26) Honey says:

When I moved to the State of Oklahoma I checked the box to be truthful. Now, every year I have to fill out forms. I am wondering about the legality of it? I had a Psychiatrist that said he would fill out whatever form was necessary to stop the paperwork nonsense. He even questioned if a law such as this violated my personal privacy. I wonder that myself.

April 18, 2013 at 2:56 pm
(27) Richard says:

live in FL and I was asked if i suffered from Epilepsy and any mental illness.I was weird out because i don’t suffer from any of these. but apparently everybody in this page who responded has bi-polar, pretty crazy if you tell me.

September 27, 2013 at 12:40 pm
(28) wut says:

I was asked when I moved and answered no (I’m not on any medications and have never driven erratically due to depression or gotten into any accidents). Honestly, I felt it was a complete invasion of my privacy and that they didn’t have the right to ask in the first place. If there was some incident in the past due to my illness it would’ve showed up on my record. I mean, at that point they’re basically dooming people to a life of disability checks if they’re forcing you to disclose mental illness and possibly withholding a driver’s license because of it. Except then they’d make you jump through hoops to MAYBE get the checks six months later. I don’t understand how this stuff gets passed into law. It seems unconstitutional.

January 10, 2014 at 3:53 pm
(29) Brooke says:

I was at the Grant road In Houston Texas. Me being honest now I have to retake the driving test hello discrimination and what a way to remind you of how not normal you are. Thanks for the update DPS (disgraceful people of the state!

February 3, 2014 at 8:37 pm
(30) DPSBS says:

Brooke did you later get a notice after receiving your license saying that it is under review and that your license will not be issued until the review is complete. I too had to retake the driving test and then after passing, received this letter stating I would receive documents that my doctor needed to complete. Now, I received a notice of revocation and to request a hearing otherwise my license would be revoked indefinitely. Who cares if I’ve been diagnosed with depression half of my life & 95% of my driving life or what my driving record looks like. Completely absurd that you have to jump through hoops to keep your license for being honest. Especially when you have already passed the test!!!

February 12, 2014 at 3:50 pm
(31) Jules says:

Virginia asked about medications (I have bipolar), and I listed mine because I didn’t want to put myself at risk for a DUI for taking my meds. They made me get a long form filled out by my psychiatrist every single year. I think what they’re trying to “trap” for is people who are actively psychotic or manic.

If you’re ever in court about your meds and DUI, challenge it on the grounds that the meds say MAY cause drowsiness, not DOES cause drowsiness. Get an expert witness who can talk about the frequency of the drowsiness side effect and, more importantly, whether you have it or not.

Getting your blood levels of your meds tested and then taking alertness tests administered by your expert witness, in several sessions, can verify that YOU don’t have that side effect.

This is nothing but stigma and discrimination, and I suspect we and our friends and family members are going to have to start having pride rallies and marches and protests to get it to stop. 4% of the US population meets the diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder. 3.8% of American adults self-identify as Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual.

There are enough of us living with bipolar disorder, and we have enough friends and family, to make some serious noise and stand up for ourselves. Society is looking for a new patsy group to get away with picking on, and we need to be willing to get active to make sure it’s not US.

April 16, 2014 at 11:50 am
(32) Jonathan says:

Well I wish I would have never answered yes to the disabilities part but felt obligated to. I feel so stupid that I answered yes because I had to retake the driving test and of course they failed me, I told the instructor who is younger than me that I should have never listed that. Now I drive without a license. I am 36 and have never had a ticket. I feel as if this is discriminatory to people with disabilities. Maybe just another way to put and keep people in the fd up system.

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