Rhode Island

Rhode Island

Are applicants for a driver’s license asked questions about diabetes?

The driver’s license application (first-time and renewal) asks an applicant whether he or she has any condition that could affect his or her ability to operate a motor vehicle safely. Rhode Island Department of Motor Vehicles, “Application for License/Identification Card/Permit,” Form LI-1 (Rev. 02/2013), Applicants who answer yes to this question must have medical evaluation forms filled out by their physicians. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 7.1-.2 (2013) (generally authorizing licensing agency to require an evaluation when having good cause to believe applicant is unsafe to operate a vehicle because of a physical handicap); R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-10-30 (2012) (authorizing examinations when good cause to believe renewal applicants incompetent or unqualified).

What other ways does the state have to find out about people who may not be able to drive safely because of a medical condition?

The state accepts reports of potentially unsafe drivers from police officers, physicians, family members, friends, other citizens, and hospitals. The licensing agency does not accept anonymous reports and does not investigate reports before a driver is contacted for a possible medical evaluation. Drivers also may be required to undergo medical evaluations if they have impairments which are observed by licensing agency personnel during the licensing process or when applying for handicapped parking permits. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 7.1-.2 (2013) (generally authorizing licensing agency to require an evaluation when having good cause to believe applicant is unsafe to operate a vehicle because of a physical handicap); R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-10-30 (2012) (authorizing examinations when good cause to believe renewal applicants incompetent or unqualified).

What is the process for medical evaluations of drivers?

When the licensing agency receives a report of a potentially unsafe driver, it may take several actions depending upon the source of the report or information. The licensing agency may decide to immediately suspend an individual’s license if there is an imminent safety risk to the general public. R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-11-7(a)(1)(i)-(iii) (2013). A hearing to determine physical or mental fitness must be held within 20 days. R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-11-7 (b) (2013). In many cases, the individual will be given a medical evaluation form for completion by his or her physician. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 7.2 (2013) (authorizing licensing agency to prepare and furnish medical evaluation form). The evaluation form must be completed and signed by a licensed physician and sent to the Medical Advisory Board. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 7.3 (2013). Supporting documents may be attached, either by the physician or the driver. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 7.3 (2013). The medical evaluation form asks a physician for information about the individual’s diagnosis and treatment, including medications taken and the individual’s reliability in taking them. The physician also is asked to provide recent test results, including blood sugar readings. Finally, the physician is asked to provide a recommendation on whether the individual can safely operate a motor vehicle.  

Medical evaluation forms are returned to the licensing agency for review and a licensing decision. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 7.4 (2013). The Medical Advisory Board must apply standards which reflect contemporary medical practices, and are consistent with the training and expertise of the members of the Board. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 8.1, 8.3 (2013). The board is not required to have an endocrinologist as a member of the board. R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-10-44(c) (2012). The Board makes its recommendation to the licensing agency, which then makes any official action it finds appropriate. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 7.4 (2013).

Are physicians required by law to report drivers who have medical conditions that could affect their ability to drive safely?

There is no statutory authority requiring physicians to report drivers with medical conditions that could affect their ability to drive safely to a central state agency. However, any physician or optometrist that diagnoses a physical or mental condition which in his or her judgment will significantly impair an individual’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely may voluntarily report the individual’s name and other information relevant to the condition to the Medical Advisory Board. R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-10-44(d) (2012).

Are physicians who report drivers with medical conditions immune from legal action by the patient?

Yes. Physicians who report or fail to report unsafe drivers are immune from any civil or criminal liability, provided that they were acting in good faith and exercising due care. R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-10-44(e) (2012).

Who makes decisions about whether drivers are medically qualified?

Cases involving diabetes are frequently referred to the state’s independent Medical Advisory Board, which reviews information provided by individuals’ physicians and makes recommendations. R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-10-44(a) (2012) (board may consult with specialist members of the board to determine driving qualifications); 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 7.4 (2013) (Board makes recommendations to licensing agency). However, the licensing agency retains ultimate authority over all licensing decisions. R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-11-1(a) (2012) (authorizing the licensing agency to cancel individuals’ driver’s licenses); R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-11-7(a)(1)(i)-(iii) (2013) (authorizing the licensing agency to suspend individuals’ driver’s licenses).

What are the circumstances under which a driver may be required to undergo a medical evaluation?

A driver may be required to undergo a medical evaluation if he or she responds affirmatively to medical questions on the licensing application. R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-10-30 (2012) (authorizing examinations when good cause to believe renewal applicants incompetent or unqualified). A driver may be required to undergo a medical evaluation if he or she is reported to the licensing agency as a potentially unsafe driver; if he or she has impairments that are observed by licensing agency personnel during the licensing process; or when applying for a handicapped parking permit. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 7.1-.2 (2013) (generally providing that an individual may be required to undergo a medical evaluation whenever the licensing agency has “sufficient cause to believe that a person is not able to safely operate a motor vehicle by reason of a physical or mental handicap”). Additionally, an individual may be required to undergo a medical evaluation if he or she suffers from episodes of loss of consciousness. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 7.2, .4 (2013) (generally providing that an individual with a physical or mental handicap may be refused licensure pending establishment of his or her physical or mental fitness to operate a motor vehicle and attendant review by the Medical Advisory Board).

Has the state adopted specific policies about whether people with diabetes are allowed to drive?

No. Rhode Island has adopted no specific medical guidelines related to diabetes, and only general guidelines related to episodes of loss of consciousness.

What is the state’s policy about episodes of altered consciousness or loss of consciousness that may be due to diabetes?

The Code of Rhode Island Rules defines any impairment in neurologic health that limits an individual’s walking capability as a physical handicap and any illness involving lapses of consciousness, blackouts, or seizures as a mental handicap. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 3.2, .5 (2013). Although there is no specified episode-free period, the licensing agency reported in a 2004 survey response that in most cases it uses an 18-month episode-free period. To obtain a driver’s license, an individual suffering from episodes of loss of consciousness which makes him her unsafe to drive must submit a physician’s certification that he or she is able to drive safely, which is then reviewed by the Medical Advisory Board. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 7.2, .4 (2013). An individual also may submit supporting documents attesting to his or her physical or mental fitness to operate a motor vehicle. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 7.3 (2013). In reviewing evidence of an individual’s physical or mental fitness to operate a motor vehicle, the Medical Advisory Board shall apply standards that reflect contemporary medical practices of the community. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 8.1 (2013).

Does the state allow for waivers of this policy, e.g., a waiver for a one-time episode of severe hypoglycemia that has mitigating factors (e.g., recent change in medication, illness, etc.) or that has been addressed with a physician?

No. Rhode Island’s policy regarding the licensing of drivers subject to episodes of loss of consciousness is not extensively developed, and as such, there are no specified statutory or regulatory exceptions. Again, to obtain a driver’s license, an individual suffering from episodes of loss of consciousness must submit a physician’s certification that he or she is able to drive safely, which is then reviewed by the Medical Advisory Board. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 7.2, .4 (2013).

What is the process for appealing a decision of the state regarding a driver’s license?

An individual whose license has been refused, suspended, or revoked for medical reasons may request an administrative hearing by filing a written request within 20 days of the date of the Official Notice. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 13.1 (2013). The licensing agency then will schedule a hearing to be held within 20 days of receiving such a request and will notify the petitioner via standard mail. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 13.2 (2013). At the hearing, an individual may introduce reliable medical evidence and documentation and must show by a preponderance of such evidence that the recommendation of the Medical Advisory Board was erroneous. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 13.3 (2013). The Medical Advisory Board will review the record on appeal and issue a recommendation as to the appeal, and the licensing agency then will make a final determination and notify the petitioner via standard mail. 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 13.5 (2013).  

Within 10 days of receiving notice of the outcome of an administrative hearing, an individual may appeal to the Sixth District Court with payment of a $25.00 filing fee. R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-11-15 (2012); 46-100-002 R.I. Code R. § 13.6 (2013). The licensing decision shall remain in effect during the pendency of the appeal. R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-11-15 (2012). An individual aggrieved by the decision of the Sixth District Court may petition the supreme court of the state of Rhode Island for a writ of certiorari to review any questions of law involved within 20 days of the decision of the lower court. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 31-11-15, 42-35-16 (2012).

May an individual whose license is suspended or denied because of diabetes receive a probationary or restricted license?

No. However, when good cause appears, the licensing agency may impose on an individual’s license restrictions “appropriate to assure the safe operation of a motor vehicle by the licensee.” R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-10-28(a) (2012).

Is an identification card available for non-drivers?

Yes, with proper identification, proof of residency, and payment of a $26.50 fee. To obtain an identification card, an individual must complete and submit a license application. An individual cannot hold an identification card and a driver’s license concurrently. For more information, see Rhode Island Department of Motor Vehicles, “State ID,” (Accessed Aug. 2013).

Resources

Driver licensing in Rhode Island is administered by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.