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A Pilot’s Duty To Report Alcohol Related Driving Offenses To The FAA: Post-Party Blues

By Gregory J. Reigel

© 2004 All rights reserved.

At this festive time of year, with Christmas parties and New Year’s Eve parties, I thought it would be helpful to re-visit the obligations of an airman who is arrested for driving-while-intoxicated (“DWI”)(this would include similar charges such as driving-under-the-influence (“DUI”) and operating-while-intoxicated (“OWI”)).

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 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 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. Question 18(v) of the medical application specifically asks whether the applying airman has had any convictions or administrative actions for DWI, etc. However, the answer the airman provides on the medical application does not replace or satisfy the reporting requirement of FAR 61.15. The FAA has suspended many airmens' certificates when the airmen have incorrectly assumed that their disclosure on the medical application was sufficient.

At this time of year when opportunities abound for celebration and consumption of holiday "cheer", exercise discretion and drink responsibly. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being arrested for DWI remember that FAR 61.15(e) imposes added responsibilities on airmen.

As always, fly safe, fly smart and, especially during this holiday season, drive safe and drink smart.

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