A mentally handicapped Maryland man with a perfect driving record must undergo lengthy medical tests to determine whether he will retain his driver's license, a state review panel has ruled.

The man, Michael Epstein, 28, a GS 3 office worker employed by the U.S. Department of Education, showed "definite signs of mental retardation" when he was interviewed by a hearing officer last week, according to Joseph L. Lupinek, an official with the Maryland Transportation Department.

Epstein was summoned to the hearing following an accident last April in which his car struck and seriously injured a pedestrian. Epstein was not charged in the incident.

Epstein testified at last week's hearing that he had not received any "treatment" for his mental limitations since he was 9 years old, and volunteered that he once was examined for a possible heart murmur, Lupinek said.

As a result the Transportation Department's administrative adjudication board ruled on Monday that Epstein must undergo extensive tests to determine his driving capabilities, according to Lubinek, who was present at the hearing last Wednesday.

Epstein's attorney, Victor M. Glasberg, said yesterday he had not yet received official notice from the state and so could not comment. "But there was nothing in the proceeding that warrants taking the matter any further," Glasberg said.

The case is being watched closely by civil rights advocates because it represents on of the few instances when mental retardation has been used as possible grounds for the revocation of a driver's license.

If Epstein loses his license through an adminstrative process, those close to him say he is prepared to fight the matter in court. Epstein could not be reached for comment yesterday.

An official with the medical advisory board of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration said yesterday that Epstein will be required to submit medical examinations conducted by his own physicians to the board. The board will then analyze the information, and will decide if it wants to meet with Epstein before making a decision on his fitness to drive, the official said.

The board heard 14,000 cases last year, and approved licenses in 12,000 cases, including two people who were retarded, the official said. One retarded person seeking a license was rejected, he said.