It’s your birthday, and to celebrate you meet some friends for dinner at your favorite restaurant. You enjoy a great steak, some wine, and after an enjoyable evening you get in your car for the short drive home. Halfway home you see flashing police lights in your rearview mirror, and you pull over. The officer tells you that your left taillight is out, and you thank him. It’s late, your eyes are slightly bloodshot, the officer says he smells alcohol on your breath, and he arrests you for DUI. He tells you to step out of your car and submit to a blood alcohol breath test.
Somewhere in the back of your mind you remember that somebody once told you to never submit to a breath test if you had a drink before being stopped. You politely tell the officer no, and he warns you that your driver’s license will be suspended if you refuse (each state has its own “implied consent” law, and in some states you may go to jail for refusing). You stand your ground, and the end result is your license is suspended and you need to hire a lawyer to defend your DUI arrest. Your lawyer is successful in having the DUI charge dropped, but the temporary driver’s license suspension for refusing a breath test stands.
Will the FAA care about this? The short answer is, yes. (This article will not address the reporting requirement of FAR 61.15(e)).
Six months later you need to renew your FAA medical certificate (it doesn’t matter what class), and you go online to complete the MedXPress renewal application. How do you answer Question 18.v, which asks if you have a “History of (1) any conviction(s) involving driving while intoxicated by, while impaired by, or while under the influence of alcohol or a drug; or (2) history of any conviction(s) or administrative action(s) involving an offense(s) which resulted in the denial, suspension, cancellation, or revocation of driving privileges or which resulted in attendance at an educational or a rehabilitation program.”
Because you now have a history of an administrative action involving an offense that resulted in the suspension of your driving privileges, you must answer YES and you must provide a detailed explanation to include date, state involved, and that your license was suspended because you refused to be tested for blood alcohol content.
You see your AME for your medical examination, and guess what. Solely because you refused a breath test, he or she cannot issue your medical certificate. Instead, your AME is required to defer your medical certification to the FAA in Oklahoma City and you must provide the FAA:
A detailed personal statement regarding your past and present patterns of alcohol use;
A complete copy of your current driving record in any state that you have held a driver’s license in the last 10 years;
Copies of any court records and arrest reports related to the event.
But wait, there’s more. You must obtain and furnish the FAA a substance abuse evaluation from an addictionologist or addiction psychologist or psychiatrist familiar with the FAA’s standards for such evaluations.
After you give the FAA all required documentation, then what? You must wait for a decision while the FAA determines whether or not it believes you have an alcohol abuse problem that requires treatment. And remember, you do not have a medical certificate while you are waiting for a decision. If the FAA decides you are not an alcohol abuser then, and only then, you will receive your medical certificate.
Would you be better off if you had submitted to a breath test? If you submit to a breath test and register a blood alcohol level lower than 0.15 but above your state’s minimum allowable level, and if you are convicted of DUI and/or your driver’s license is suspended, you must answer YES to question 18.v, but your AME may issue your medical certificate without deferring to Oklahoma City as long as it is your first alcohol related offense. You must provide your AME:
A detailed history of your alcohol use;
Copies of all court records and arrest reports related to the event.
Your AME can issue your medical certificate if based on the exam, a detailed interview, and review of the court records and arrest reports he or she determines your history does not indicate a possible alcohol abuse problem.
If you submit to a breath test and register a blood alcohol level of 0.15 or higher, your AME must defer to Oklahoma City and the requirements are the same as refusing a breath test.
I hope you enjoy your next birthday dinner, but perhaps this time without the wine.