Alcohol/Drug Reporting Misconceptions

Substance Abuse—Alcohol/Drug Reporting Misconceptions

  1. Alcohol/Drug GuidelinesA conviction for the violation of any Federal or state statute relating to the growing, processing, manufacture, sale, disposition, possession, transportation, or importation of narcotic drugs, marihuana, or depressant or stimulant drugs or substances is grounds for:
    1. Denial of an application for any certificate or rating issued under this part for a period of up to 1 year after the date of final conviction; or
    2. Suspension or revocation of any certificate or rating issued under this part.
  2. The commission of an act prohibited by 91.17(a) or 91.19(a) of this chapter is grounds for:
    1. Denial of an application for a certificate or rating issued under this part for a period up to 1 year after the date of that act; or
    2. Suspension or revocation of any certificate or rating issued under this part.
  3. For the purposes of paragraphs (d) and (e) of this section, a motor vehicle action means:
    1. A conviction after November 29, 1990, for the 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 by a state after November 29, 1990, 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 after November 29, 1990, of an application for a license to operate a motor vehicle by a state 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.
  4. Except in the case of a motor vehicle action that results from the same incident or arises out of the same factual circumstances, a motor vehicle action occurring within 3 years of a previous motor vehicle action is grounds for:
    1. Denial of an application for any certificate or rating issued under this part for period of up to 1 year after the date of the last motor vehicle action; or
    2. Suspension or revocation of any certificate or rating issued under this part.
  5. Each person holding a certificate issued under this part shall provide a written report of each motor vehicle action to FAA, Internal Security and Investigation Division (AAC-700), P.O. Box 25810, Oklahoma City, OK 73125, not later than 60 days after the motor vehicle action. The report must include:
    1. a. The person's name, address, date of birth, and airman certificate number;
    2. b. The type of violation that resulted in the conviction or the administrative action;
    3. c. The date of the conviction or administrative action;
    4. d. The state that holds the record of conviction or administrative action; and
    5. e. 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.
  6. 6. Failure to comply with paragraph (e) of this section is grounds for:
    1. a. Denial of an application for any certificate or rating issued under this part for a period of up to 1 year after the date of the motor vehicle action; or
    2. b. Suspension or revocation of any certificate or rating issued under this part.
Offenses Involving Alcohol and Drugs: Key Points and Misconceptions

Many pilots suffer FAA penalties for failure to report "motor vehicle actions" involving drinking (or drug use) and driving under FAR 61.15. The most confusing part of this regulation relates to being stopped while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and having your driver's license suspended or revoked. You must report any of the following motor vehicle actions (if they occurred after November 29, 1990) within 60 days of that action:

  • Conviction of any federal or state law relating to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs;
  • Cancellation, suspension, or revocation of your driver's license for driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol; and
  • Denial of a driver's license for cause related to operation of a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
  • Failure of or refusal to take a breathalyzer test, if it resulted in a driver's license suspension.

Conviction is obvious, but "cancellation, suspension or revocation" of a driver's license causes much confusion. It doesn't matter if your arrest charges are later dismissed or pled down to a lesser charge. If your driver's license was suspended for an alcohol or drug action in any form, you must report it to the FAA Internal Security and Investigation Division within 60 days.

Your attorney may advise you that a report to the FAA is not required because the case was dismissed, or because the charge was plea-bargained to reckless driving. This is NOT correct. If your driver's license is suspended, even for only a few hours, canceled, or revoked, you must file a report.

Some states have automatic suspension laws if, for example, you refuse to take a breathalyzer test for alcohol. In other states, a police officer may physically confiscate your driver's license at the time of arrest. Some states may require a court hearing or court order. Whatever the mechanism, the result is the same: If your license is suspended, you must report it to the FAA within 60 days.

There may be times when you have to make two (or more) reports to FAA as a result of a single motor vehicle violation involving alcohol or drugs. For instance, if your driver's license is first suspended, then you are convicted of driving impaired, two notifications are required. The first report is required when your driver's license is suspended; the second one because you were later convicted of the charge that resulted in the suspension of your license in the first place. This may sound like double jeopardy because more than one notification is required, but it's not. Notifications are required because of the way the law was written, but the FAA will not assess any additional penalty if all the notifications arise out of the same arrest.

These reports are entirely separate from the question on the FAA airman medical application (item 18v), which asks about alcohol-related motor vehicle actions. Answering that question on your next medical application does not satisfy FAR 61.15, and reporting under 61.15 does not satisfy the requirement for reporting on your next medical.

Key Points and Misconceptions About FAR 61.15

  • A suspension of your driver's license for refusing an alcohol test (e.g., "Breathalyzer Test") is a reportable motor vehicle action, whether you've actually been drinking or not.
  • If a state in which you do not hold a driver's license suspends your driving privileges for an alcohol-related driving offense, then it is a reportable motor vehicle action.
  • If the alcohol-related driving charges are eventually dropped, you are still obligated to file a report if your driver's license was suspended. The potential problem is that many pilots won't submit the report because their attorney has said "don't report anything because the charges have been dropped."
  • If you want to verify the existence of a record for an alcohol-related driving offense/conviction, you can contact both your state motor vehicle administration and the National Driver Register (NDR). Start by calling your local Division of Motor Vehicles office for information on how to access those records.
  • If you are arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol but are convicted of reckless driving, the conviction is a reportable motor vehicle action. The key point here is that it's reportable if the conviction was the result of being charged with an "alcohol related" driving offense.
  • Reporting a motor vehicle action (as defined in FAR 61.15) on the medical application does not satisfy the reporting requirements under 61.15 and vice versa.
  • A student pilot who has not soloed still holds an airman certificate under FAR 61.15.
  • The typical penalty for failure to report a motor vehicle action per 61.15 is a 30-day suspension of the airman certificate, unless there are mitigating circumstances.
  • The report required by 61.15 should be sent certified mail with a return receipt but can also be faxed to the FAA at 405/954 4948.
  • If you miss the 60-day reporting deadline but have not yet applied for a new medical certificate, by all means, make the report, even if it is late. The FAA will issue only an administrative action (letter of reprimand), but in most cases, there will be no civil penalty nor will there be any action taken against your pilot certificate.
  • If you have a suspension and conviction arising out of the same incident, you will not be penalized for having two motor vehicle actions within three years. It's important to note that even if there is a suspension and conviction arising out of the same set of factual circumstances, you still must file a report for the suspension and the conviction.
  • Pilots must comply with 61.15 even if they were not actively flying at the time of the action.
  • The FAA discovers violations of 61.15 through the National Driver Register (NDR). When you sign the medical application, you are authorizing the FAA to take a one-time look at your state driving and NDR records. The FAA checks ALL medical applications against both the Internal Security and Investigation Division records and the NDR records.

The Least Understood Part of FAR 61.15

The most straightforward part of FAR 61.15 says simply that if you are convicted of anything relating to drugs, the FAA can take action against your certificate. Revocation is the usual penalty unless the drug offense was simple possession of a small amount of the drug. No special reporting is required on your part, but the FAA almost always finds out anyway.

A separate section gives the FAA authority to suspend or revoke your pilot certificate for violations of FAR 91.17 (flying under the influence) or 91.19 (carrying drugs while flying). Again, no report is needed.

Resources, Additional Help

Where to send reports required by FAR 61.15:

FAA Internal Security and Investigation Division (AMC-700)
P.O. Box 25810
Oklahoma City OK 73125
Fax: 405 954 4989
Telephone: 405 954 3212

And of course, as an AOPA member, you can always call AOPA experts for help or advice with any aviation-related questions: AOPA Pilot Information Center 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672).

How/Where to Submit to the FAA

Helps you find the contact information for submitting your medical records.

Updated October 27, 2009