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About Administrative Suspensions

The term “administrative suspension” is used to distinguish discretionary suspensions — where a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing officer decides whether to suspend — from mandatory suspensions (that occur automatically upon certain criminal convictions or other events) and court suspensions imposed by a judge. A motorist almost always has the right to a hearing before an administrative suspension becomes permanent.

The most common administrative suspension is the one that follows a DUI arrest, called an admin per se suspension because it is based on a prohibited per se blood alcohol concentration. But administrative suspensions also include implied consent suspensions (based on the refusal to complete a chemical breath or blood test), negligent operator suspensions, physical and mental suspensions, and suspensions for lack of skill as a driver.

In this section, we cover the following topics:

If your California driving privileges are at risk for these or any other reasons, consider your options. Beat DMV, a division of the Law Office of Rodney Gould in Sherman Oaks, is a powerful resource for motivated drivers in need of DMV solutions. Call 818-570-6989 or send an email to schedule a consultation.

The Fine Print

Though the term “administrative suspension” is somewhat misleading (because all suspensions by DMV are administrative given that DMV is an administrative agency), it has been universally used to refer only to suspensions where a motorist has a right to a hearing before a hearing officer who decides whether to impose the suspension. A mandatory suspension, on the other hand, happens automatically at DMV upon a triggering event such as a criminal conviction for DUI. A court suspension is one imposed by a judge against a motorist appearing in the courtroom.

Admin Per Se

Section 13353.2 provides the most commonly imposed administrative suspension in California: the administrative per se suspension (APS) based on a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that is per se illegal. That is, the BAC itself triggers the suspension regardless of whether the motorist’s driving was impaired. Admin per se suspensions include the 21 and over excess BAC suspension (.08 percent or greater provided by Section 13353.2(a)(1)), the so-called zero tolerance suspension for motorists 21 and under (.01 percent provided by Section 13353.2(a)(2)), the commercial vehicle excess BAC suspension (.04 percent provided by Section 13353.2(a)(3)) and the DUI probation suspension (.01 percent provided by Section 13353.2(a)(4)).

An admin per se suspension becomes effective 30 days after the motorist is served with the APS suspension order. A first offense APS suspension lasts four months (Section 13353.3(a)(1), but a motorist may opt for a five-month work restricted license after 30 days. (Section 13353.7.) An APS suspension with one or more prior suspensions during the 10-year look-back period lasts one year (Section 13353.3(a)(2)(A)), but the motorist may be eligible for an ignition interlock restricted license after 90 days if convicted of DUI. (Section 13353.3(a)(2)(B), Section 13352.)

Implied Consent/Refusal

Section 13353 provides for a suspension if a motorist refuses or fails to complete a chemical test following a valid DUI arrest. A first offense refusal suspension lasts one year with no restricted license available. A refusal with one alcohol-related prior offense in 10 years results in a two-year revocation (Section 13353.1(a)(2)), and a refusal with two prior alcohol-related offenses in 10 years results in a three-year revocation (Section 13353.1(a)(3)).

Negligent Operator

Sections 12809(e) and 13359 allow DMV to suspend any motorist it deems to be a “negligent or incompetent operator,” usually triggered by too many points on a driving record. If a motorist does not demand a hearing to contest the automatic suspension, the suspension period is six months with a one-year probation period. A hearing officer has the discretion after a hearing to impose a shorter (or presumably longer) period if circumstances warrant it. The hearing officer may also impose probation only with no suspension period.

Physical & Mental (P&M)

Sections 12806(c) and 13359 allow DMV to suspend a motorist who has “any physical or mental disability, disease or disorder which could affect the safe operation of a motor vehicle.” These suspensions are usually accompanied by a notice of re-examination under Section 13801. They last until DMV is convinced that the person’s condition is not a threat to safe driving, and the motorist is entitled to a hearing to present medical evidence to that effect. In a serious case, DMV may immediately revoke the motorist’s license until he or she provides such medical evidence showing an ability to drive safely. (Section 13950).)

Lack Of Skill

Similar to a P&M suspension, a lack of skill suspension is imposed when a motorist simply cannot operate a vehicle safely. (Section 12805(d).) This section is used when the motorist’s problem is unrelated to a physical or mental disability and is similarly accompanied by a notice of re-examination under Section 13801. Also like the P&M scenario, DMV may immediately revoke a motorist’s license until he or she provides evidence showing an ability to drive safely. (Section 13950).)


VC 12805, VC 12806, VC 12809, VC 13352, VC 13353, VC 13353.1, VC 13353.2, VC 13353.3, VC 13353.7, VC 13359, VC 13801, VC 13950