Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A License To...

Recently the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicle sent me an application to renew my driver’s license. I’ll be turning 65 in a couple of month and it’s been a few years since the one I have was issued.  The snapshot on my license is truly horrible. I look like a sleepy, pudgy man who just realized the plumbing in his home is faulty, so I welcomed the opportunity to at least set things right photographically.

But the more I thought about it, the more the automatic renewal gave me pause. Turns out I won’t get another photo—the DMV no longer reissues licenses in person—so for identification purposes, the license is useless; I no longer look like the unhappy man portrayed in the grainy Polaroid and even though I’m sure store clerks will make a show of looking at the photo when I write them a check, it really is an exercise in futility. But more to the point, shouldn’t everyone get re-tested once or twice in a lifetime? We’re talking about (wo)manning a large, moving piece of steel and plastic capable of inflicting death and destruction if one is inattentive for only a moment. Speaking solely for myself, I know that neither my reflexes nor my eyesight are what they were, which is why I no longer own motorcycles. 

I once wrote a politically incorrect blog on Driving While Asian (DWA). I would venture that the only drivers worse than Asian women are senior citizens who can barely see over the dashboard of their Caddies and Olds.

When my father was in the throes of Alzheimer’s, one of the most painful things I had to do was forbid him to drive and take his license away. I remember him blithely signaling right and turning left amidst a concerto of horns and nodding off while waiting for a light to turn green. My mother, who learned to drive American Army trucks as a Free French soldier in Algeria during World War II, was even worst. Though she never had an accident, she was the scourge of American roadways, causing other drivers to pass her while making insulting hand gestures out of their car windows. Her favorite trick was to stop dead in the middle of the road if she heard a siren, no matter how distant. I’m not sure where that habit came from, though she claimed it was a trick question in the written part of the driver’s license test in Maryland.

Personally, I’m glad not to have to go through the hassle of being tested again. I haven’t had a ticket in ages and I can’t remember my last fender-bender. But I am the first to recognize that driving has changed radically in the last 40 years. More multi-lane highways, higher speeds, far more powerful cars, and the need for a greater awareness of one’s environment all make for potential tragedy among older drivers.

According to elderly driving statistics, older drivers have more fatal accidents than any other age group. In addition, elderly drivers are more at risk of dying after an accident because of their frailty. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that in 2006, when the last data was computed, there were nearly 30 million elderly drivers driving on the streets of America. The statistics further showed that in that same year, 6,017 elderly people were killed in road accidents and this figure is around 14 percent of total people killed by road accidents. According to Babyboomercare.com, a website that follows elderly issues, “Elderly driving statistics clearly proves that the older population of America is a danger to themselves and other drivers. That is why there are repeated calls for elderly drivers to be retested to see whether they are okay to drive.”

The Virginia DMV charges me $35 for a new license. The fee, basically, is just another way to get a few bucks out of the local citizenry. Test us, I say. And if we’re not capable of passing the test, ground us, or provide alternative ways of getting us from A to B. We’ll be safer and live a bit longer.

That, as Mr. Malaprop once said, is my opinion, and I share it.

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