LOS ANGELES, AUG. 11 -- A decision to summarily revoke the driver's licenses of seven men accused of taking part in California's reign of highway violence was applauded by law officers but assailed by civil libertarians.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles, responding to a series of shootings, stabbings and other roadway assaults in which four people have died, revoked the licenses without a hearing, department spokesman Bill Gengler said.

"The only criterion is that they've been arrested for highway violence," Gengler said. "The person doesn't have to be charged or convicted. It's strictly an administrative action."

"At this stage of the game, anything that can help bring this situation to a screeching halt, we're in favor of," California Highway Patrol spokesman Mike Maas said.

"It's kind of like 'Guilty until proven innocent,' " protested Joan Howarth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Los Angeles.

In addition to the four deaths, 17 people have been injured in 51 verified attacks since mid-June. Many of the attacks followed traffic disputes.

There are indications the deadly fad is spreading beyond southern California's tangle of freeways, with attacks being reported elsewhere in the state and as far away as New York.