Reporting Alcohol Related Driving Offenses To The FAA: Post-Party Blues
In this installment of Legal Corner I would like to discuss an issue that continues to create problems for airmen: the alcohol related driving offense, also known as driving-while-intoxicated (DWI) (this would include similar charges such as driving-under-the-influence (DUI) and operating-while-intoxicated (OWI)).
Yes, I know this issue doesn’t directly affect mechanics, directors of maintenance and many other individuals providing maintenance services. However, a significant number of those individuals also hold airmen certificates and, as a result, this issue does affect those airmen. If an airman does not properly comply with his or her obligations after a DWI, not only could the airman’s pilot certificate(s) be impacted, but failure to comply could also result in serious consequences for the airman’s mechanic certificate and ratings.
I thought it would be helpful to first re-visit the reporting obligations of an airman under FAR 61.15(e). After that we will talk about reporting of the DWI on an FAA medical application.
Reporting The DWI Under FAR 61.15(e)
Although most people are familiar with the term “DWI,” it is important to know that this term is included in what the FAA refers to as “motor vehicle actions.” Under FAR 61.15(c), a motor vehicle action is “(1) a violation of any Federal or State statute relating to the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol or a drug, while impaired by alcohol or a drug, or while under the influence of alcohol or a drug; (2) the cancellation, suspension, or revocation of a license to operate a motor vehicle, for a cause related to the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol or a drug, while impaired by alcohol or a drug, or while under the influence of alcohol or a drug; or (3) the denial of an application for a license to operate a motor vehicle for a cause related to the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol or a drug, while impaired by alcohol or a drug, or while under the influence of alcohol or a drug.”
A motor vehicle action triggers the reporting requirements of FAR 61.15(e). The airman who has been the subject of a motor vehicle action is required to provide a written report to the FAA Civil Aviation Security Division within 60 days that includes: “(1) The person’s name, address, date of birth, and airman certificate number; (2) The type of violation that resulted in the conviction or the administrative action; (3) The date of the conviction or administrative action; (4) The State that holds the record of conviction or administrative action; and (5) A statement of whether the motor vehicle action resulted from the same incident or arose out of the same factual circumstances related to a previously reported motor vehicle action.”
FAR 61.15(f) states that failure to provide the FAA with this written report can result in (1) Denial of an application for any certificate or rating for a period of up to 1 year after the date of the arrest; or (2) Suspension or revocation of any certificate or rating. If an airman finds himself or herself in this situation, it is important to keep several things in mind in order to properly comply with FAR 61.15 and avoid the consequences of a failure to report.
First, in many states, an arrest for DWI starts a two-track process: a civil action and a criminal action. The civil action is an administrative action against the offending individual’s driver’s license that typically results in immediate temporary suspension of the driver’s license pending the outcome of the administrative action. The criminal action is a criminal prosecution against the driver that may or may not result in the driver actually being convicted of DWI. For example, in many instances an initial charge of DWI can be reduced to a charge of careless driving or some similar, but lesser offense.
Under FAR 61.15, both the civil action and the criminal action are considered motor vehicle actions. The immediate suspension of the driver’s license pursuant to the civil action triggers the obligation to make a written report to the FAA. If the driver is later convicted of DWI, another report must be made. This multiple reporting situation makes it imperative that the driver’s statement under FAR 61.15(e)(5) clearly explain that the later conviction arose out of the same factual circumstances as the civil suspension previously reported. The absence of a clear explanation can result in confusion with the FAA incorrectly believing that the driver has had two motor vehicle actions rather than just the one.
The second important and often misunderstood point is that the report required by FAR 61.15(e) is separate and distinct from the answer an airman is required to provide on an Airman Medical Application, Form 8500-8. And, conversely, the answer an airman provides on the medical application does not replace or satisfy the reporting requirement of FAR 61.15(e).
Reporting The DWI On An FAA Medical Application
In order to operate an aircraft as a pilot, other than as a sport pilot, an airman is required to have an FAA medical certificate in the airman’s possession. When an airman applies for a medical certificate, the airman must complete an FAA Airman Medical Application, currently Form 8500-8GG and submit to a medical exam performed by the airman’s aviation medical examiner (AME).
Question 18(v) of the medical application specifically asks whether the applying airman has had any arrests, convictions or administrative actions for DWI, etc. If an airman has been arrested for, convicted of, or had his or her driver’s license suspended or revoked in connection with, a DWI then the airman is required to answer “yes” to question 18(v). The airman will need to provide the AME with a brief explanation of the circumstances and copies of pertinent police reports and court records.
What happens if an airman answers “no” when, in fact, the airman should have answered “yes”? Well, when an airman signs the medical application, he or she gives the FAA permission to search the National Driver Register. Each week, the FAA Security Division sends airmen-identifying information to the register and, if they receive a “hit,” the FAA checks the airman’s medical examination records to see if the airman reported the DWI as required. Thus, the chances of getting caught at some point in time are pretty good.
If the FAA discovers that an airman has provided a false answer, the consequences can be severe. First, the FAA will revoke all of the airman’s certificates, including a mechanic certificate and ratings, under FAR 67.403(c)(1) (providing that the making of an incorrect statement in support of an application for a medical certificate may serve as a basis for suspending or revoking a medical certificate). Second, the airman could be criminally prosecuted resulting in the assessment of fines, jail time and, in some situations, permanent disbarment from ever holding an FAA mechanic’s certificate.
Failure to properly report a DWI to the FAA can result in significant consequences for individuals who hold both airmen and mechanic certificates. To avoid ending up in this situation, airmen should prepare for their medical examinations well in advance. If an airman is unsure about whether something needs to be disclosed, the airman should consult with his or her AME or an aviation attorney before submitting to the exam. Better to know the options before sitting in the AME’s office with pen and application in hand.
© March, 2011 All rights reserved.
Greg Reigel is an aviation attorney, author and pilot. He holds a commercial pilot certificate (single-engine land and sea and multi-engine land) with instrument rating. His practice concentrates on aviation litigation, including aviation insurance matters and FAA certificate actions, and also aviation transactional matters. He is admitted to practice law in Minnesota and Wisconsin and advises clients throughout the country on aviation law matters. A cum laude graduate of William Mitchell College of Law, Reigel is the founder and president of the law firm Reigel & Associates, Ltd./Aero Legal Services based in Hopkins, Minn. He is an Adjunct Professor for the Business Law Clinic and an Instructor for the “Lawyering Skills” courses at William Mitchell. His articles have appeared in Private Pilot, the Midwest Flyer and on www.globalair.com. He frequently speaks to groups on aviation and business law issues. Reigel is a member of the AOPA Legal Services Panel, secretary of the Minnesota Aviation Trade Association, and a member of the NTSB Bar Association, National Business Aviation Association, Minnesota Business Aviation Association, ABA-Forum on Air & Space Law, Lawyer-Pilot Bar Association and Experimental Aircraft Association.