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Federal judge: Discrimination suit against DMV can continue

DMVThere have been several important court decisions of late so you may have missed an important one that came out this week. On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle denied the state’s motion to dismiss an important lawsuit challenging discriminatory practices by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles in the treatment of people with disabilities.

According to Vicki Smith of Disability Rights North Carolina, the group’s director, DMV has long been making use of a set of imprecise and ill-defined procedures whereby many safe drivers who happen to have disabilities but who long ago received licenses and have had no change in their physical status are, as the result of simply being eyeballed by DMV examiners,  subjected to extra and burdensome tests and requirements to keep their licenses.

This is from a media release announcing the court victory:

Yesterday, US District Court Judge Terrence Boyle denied the NC Division of Motor Vehicle’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit that alleges it systemically discriminates against people with disabilities. This ruling could have widespread implications for drivers with disabilities. The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by drivers with disabilities who were subjected to unnecessary road testing and medical exams based on stereotypes and generalizations about people with physical disabilities.

The DMV Medical Review Program is a mechanism for the DMV to identify unsafe drivers. Doctors, family members, and others may suggest that a driver is no longer capable of safely driving, and the DMV may require that individual to undergo medical screening. However, the DMV has extended the program to drivers, like the Plaintiffs in the case, who are capable, safe drivers but who have a physical disability. Each individual Plaintiff was referred for testing or medical review by DMV staff based on the DMV’s policies regarding drivers with disabilities.

In moving to dismiss the case, the DMV contended that licensed drivers with disabilities should not be permitted to challenge the DMV’s imposition of additional testing and medical review because the drivers have not proven they are qualified. Because licensed drivers are qualified to drive, Judge Boyle concluded that “the issue is whether the actions taken by the state, after issuance of a driver’s license, are discriminatory in nature.”

“Today’s decision means that drivers with disabilities will get their day in court,” said Vicki Smith, Executive Director of Disability Rights NC. “Through this case, we expect to shine a light on a system that operates on outdated notions that people with disabilities don’t drive and work and participate in their communities.”

The bottom line: No one’s saying DMV can’t require more of would-be drivers if it has a good reason to so. Merely, however, giving driving examiners without medical backgrounds the broad discretion to select people for extra scrutiny based on their instincts and intuition –as is essentially the practice now — clearly isn’t fair or lawful.

Let’s hope the lawsuit results in the very near future in much better and fairer criteria. Stay tuned

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