Cognitive Function

Cognitive function refers to your ability to be able to process incoming information. Cognition is your awareness of your surroundings using your perception, reasoning, judgment, intuition, and your memory. Any cognitive impairment can negatively affect your ability to safely drive a motor vehicle.

How do cognitive impairments affect senior drivers?

Dementia is one of the most serious cognitive disorders affecting the older population. Dementia is frequently not recognized and therefore not diagnosed, allowing it to progress beyond the stage where early treatment may have slowed its course.  Seniors suffering from dementia can present a significant challenge to safe driving, and individuals with progressive dementia may ultimately lose their ability to be able to drive.  Unlike senior drivers with motor function or vision impairments who tend to self-restrict their driving, senior drivers with dementia will often continue driving even when it may be unsafe for them to do so.

What are some of the causes of cognitive impairment?

The following diseases are some of the causes of an individual’s cognitive impairment:

  • Dementia (Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia)
  • Vertigo
  • Sleep disorders (Narcolepsy, sleep apnea – lapse of consciousness condition)
  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Brain Tumor
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Seizure disorder (lapse of consciousness condition)

The important thing to remember about many cognitive impairments is that many are progressive. Therefore, early diagnosis and treatment is vital to ensure that you will be able to drive for as long as possible.  Also, as long as we can document that your condition remains mild, we should be able to keep your driving privileges intact.

What actions does DMV take on cognitive impairment?

If you have been referred to DMV or have been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, you will be scheduled for a driver safety reexamination.  The reexamination is conducted in-person by a DMV hearing officer.   You will be required to take a written test and you may also be required to take a vision test. If you pass the written test and the hearing officer determines that a supplemental drive test, is appropriate, you will be scheduled for one. If you pass the supplemental drive test, you will be allowed to continue driving, but you will be scheduled for another reexamination within 6 to 12 months to reassess your driving abilities.

What actions can be taken after the reexamination?

After your reexamination, the DMV hearing officer may:

  • Determine that no condition exists that makes you unsafe to drive.
  • Reexamine your driving ability at a future date.
  • Tell you that you must comply with your medical regimen and report any changes to DMV.
  • Tell you that you must submit annual medical reports to DMV on specified dates.
  • Issue you a limited term driver license. A limited term driver license is one that is issued for a term shorter than a regular term license. This type of license requires you to return to DMV for more frequent reevaluation and/or testing.
  • Restrict your driving privilege.
  • Suspend or revoke your driving privilege.