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The double whammy of a motor vehicle action

Anyone who has an airman certificate issued by the FAA must be aware of what a “motor vehicle action” is, as defined by the federal aviation regulations, and the consequences of, among other things, not making the required reports to the Civil Aviation Security Division of the FAA within the time prescribed in 14 CFR 61.15

In the early 1990s, the FAA started taking notice of pilots, flight instructors, and other certificate holders who were unfortunate enough to receive a citation or be arrested for operating a motor vehicle while in any way under the influence of, or intoxicated by alcohol or any drug. I don’t use the words “drunk driving” because in many instances a person can run afoul of the laws of all of the states in his or her operation of a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol when he or she is not yet what most folks consider to be drunk. For our purposes here, we’ll talk about alcohol-related offenses, ignoring the same problems that can occur if a person has been using drugs, and we’ll refer to the offense by its commonly used acronym, DUI. 

14 CFR 61.15 coined a new concept into the federal aviation regulation lexicon—the motor vehicle action, which we’ll abbreviate as MVA. An MVA is one of three things. First, it can be a conviction in court for DUI, or another offense relating to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, impaired by alcohol, or under the influence. Second, it can be the suspension, cancellation, or revocation of a driver’s license for a cause related to operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated, or while either impaired by or under the influence of alcohol. Third is the denial of an application for a driver’s license for a cause relating to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated,  or while impaired by or under the influence of alcohol. Any one of these is a separate MVA.

A pilot who has an MVA has a duty to report any one or more of them to the Civil Aviation Security Division of the FAA within 60 days of the MVA. Here is where the first part of the double whammy can occur for a pilot who gets a DUI. When first arrested in your home state, or even cited in case the police officer doesn’t make an arrest, under the law of many states, the driver’s license of the offender will be physically seized, and the offender will be placed under administrative suspension of his or her driving privileges right then and there. This administrative suspension is an MVA, and must be reported to the FAA within 60 days. In some states, the suspension of your license may occur at some point following the arrest. Regardless of the method of suspension, as soon as it is effective, at arrest or later, it must be reported.

Then, weeks, or sometimes months later, the DUI case will come to court, and any conviction related to the operation of a motor vehicle involving alcohol or drugs, is a separate MVA, and must again be reported. So, for basically one offense, two separate MVAs have occurred, requiring two separate reports to the FAA—this is the double whammy. Fail to make either or both of those reports, and you’ll hear from the FAA legal folks, who will likely propose to suspend your airman certificate. Should a pilot get arrested for DUI outside of his or her home state, some different rules apply. Also, some convictions of a lesser offense than the DUI for which the pilot was initially arrested may not constitute an MVA and won’t have to be reported. 

Don’t forget that the next time you apply for a medical certificate you will have to answer questions on the application about the same event, and those questions may require you to report events not reportable under 14 CFR 61.15

If you have any doubt about your reporting requirements, consult a knowledgeable aviation attorney. All too often the nonaviation lawyer who handles DUIs will, with all good intentions, give a pilot erroneous advice about whether to report the outcome of the case.

Jerry Eichenberger

Mr. Eichenberger is a panel attorney for AOPA’s Legal Services Plan (LSP). He has been a panel attorney since inception.

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