Lawsuit targets NC driver licensing system

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Photo of hands on a car steering wheel.

North Carolina DMV faces discrimination lawsuit

Disability Rights North Carolina filed a federal lawsuit against the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles on February 18, accusing the agency of systematically violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by subjecting certain drivers to unnecessary road testing and medical exams.

“We can’t sit by and allow the DMV to stereotype and demean North Carolina drivers with disabilities,” said Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights NC, in a news release. “We are taking this action to protect and promote the dignity of these individuals and all individuals with disabilities, and to enforce the right to be free from discrimination on account of disability.”

In North Carolina, when drivers seek to obtain or renew a drivers license, they are only required to be reexamined if there is “good and sufficient cause to believe that a licensed driver is incompetent or otherwise not qualified to be licensed.”

According to the lawsuit, all drivers with “apparent physical disabilities,” or who use hand controls and other vehicle modifications, automatically must be reexamined after passing their initial test. These drivers must also submit medical documents and in some cases, must undergo “behind-the-wheel assessments” with occupational therapists.

Even if these drivers pass these tests, the DMV still has authority to place “advisable restrictions” on their licenses, without an opportunity to appeal.

“The DMV requires drivers with disabilities to take road tests when others are not required to do so, and when there is no objective basis for doing so,” Disability Rights North Carolina said in the lawsuit. “The DMV imposes restrictions on the licenses of drivers with disabilities that are unsupported by medical evidence.”

“The DMV frequently acts outside of its statutory authority in taking these actions, and in violation of federal laws requiring that purported ‘safety’ measures must be “necessary… [and] based on actual risks, not on mere speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Disability Rights North Carolina is the federally funded protection and advocacy system in Oregon, and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.