Anxious? Happy? Nevada DMV wants to know

CARSON CITY - The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, already under fire for long lines, is drawing criticism for asking about the mental health of drivers renewing licenses by mail.

''We view the question to be intrusive and beyond the scope of the DMV's needed information,'' says Janyce Benson, chairwoman of the Southern Nevada Mental Health and Developmental Services Advisory Board.

DMV forms ask drivers seeking renewals to check ''yes'' or ''no'' to the question ''have you suffered from or are you under a doctor's care'' for a mental or emotional disorder. The form then asks that ''yes'' answers be explained.

The 12-member, government-appointed mental health board is made up of providers, consumers and advocates. The board advises the state on issues of mental health and mental disabilities.

Even mental health professionals might have trouble answering the question as it's written now, said board member and University of Nevada, Las Vegas psychology professor Russell Hurlburt.

Hurlburt uses the example of a person who might be suffering from depression.

''Does that mean my wife died, I feel bad, I went to a therapist, do I check here and explain it? How long do I have to be sad before I explain?'' he says.

''Those are the basic issues in mental health definitions a guy shouldn't have to wrestle with in filling out an application for a driver's license.''

The board has written to the DMV asking that the question ask only about mental or emotional disorders ''that may affect the safe operation of a vehicle.''

Benson says that's reasonable. The application for a first license asks ''do you have a disability that affects your driving ability?'' It also ask ''if you are under a doctor's care what are you being treated for?'' and ''are you taking medication that affects your driving ability?''

Under Nevada administrative code, a person may be denied a license for conditions ranging from heart disease and diabetes to certain psychiatric disorders.

Diagnosis with such an illness is not automatic cause for denial. But DMV staffers may ask the applicant further questions and then may require a physician's report detailing the ailment and its potential affect on driving.

The renewal-by-mail form seeks more specifics since applicants aren't in front of staffers and can't quickly answer questions that would help spot those ineligible for licenses, said Dana Mathiesen, the agency's drivers program manager.

If, for example, a person checks ''yes'' for emotional disorders and then clarifies ''I've been depressed since my husband died. I'm on Prozac,'' that probably would suffice and the applicant would get her license renewed by mail, she said.

If applicants don't explain, or there are still outstanding questions, they're told either to go to a full-service office to answer questions, submit a doctor's report, or call for more information. Often those phone calls can get the problem cleared up quickly and the license can be renewed, Mathiesen said.

In fiscal year 1998, 100,153 renewal by mail applications were processed. Of those, 242 were rejected for either physical or mental disabilities.


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