Opinion

Want to drive in old age? Then prove you still can

Want a more realistic and useful driving test? Then take drivers, especially the older ones, out to the freeway and see if they can safely merge into traffic or if they know to stay out of the left lane except for passing.
Want a more realistic and useful driving test? Then take drivers, especially the older ones, out to the freeway and see if they can safely merge into traffic or if they know to stay out of the left lane except for passing. jkarr@islandpacket.com

Contemplating visits to our beloved Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is about as appealing as planning your next dental surgery or colonoscopy.

Much to my surprise a recent visit to the Turlock office was not only efficiently handled, but all in all not unpleasant.

Once you pass a certain number on the age scale, the DMV requires a personal appearance to renew your California driver’s license. Not only the usual photo and eye test, but you are also subjected each time to taking the 18-question written exam.

Now that the airlines and other federal agencies are requiring a new and “enhanced” ID for travel, etc., the local DMV offices have been overwhelmed with folks needing to obtain these new documents before the deadline – which now is less than two years away.

When I tried to make an online appointment for the Modesto office a month, ago I was offered dates in September and October. Luckily, found one in Turlock on the morning of my birthday – which means I had just hours to go before my license would expire.

Local stories abound of folks who have stood in line for hours after arriving without an appointment. My first surprise of the morning was a line that never was longer than about 10 minutes and several times down to zero. (I had an appointment, but those without appointments didn’t seem to unduly suffer on this day.)

When I asked for not only a renewal but the new and improved enhanced model I was very disappointed to learn I had not done my homework. I not only needed a birth certificate (I carry a US passport card, which suffices for this document) but also needed a utility bill or some similar paper showing my name and current address. Last but not least, my social security card. Whoa! I have not seen that piece of cardboard in 40 years – I have no clue where it might be.

“Sorry pal, better luck next time,” was, essentially, the response.

Yes, I could still renew my license, and since I carry the above mentioned passport card I really don’t need to make another trip to get a better version of the driver’s license.

The written exam is pretty lame. Questions like “What do you do if someone is walking in a crosswalk in front of you?” Note: “Carefully drive around the person avoiding contact” is not the right answer.

Rather than a mundane written ,exam I strongly believe all seniors should take a real driving test, behind the wheel with a certified examiner.

The first place to go would be a round-about, followed by a couple of freeway on-ramps and then entering expressways via lanes that double as exit and merge lanes. Forget parallel parking! Why that is on a driving test has always been a mystery. How about several miles on divided four-lane freeways? Driving more than half mile in the left lane should be automatic disqualification and mandatory driving school – though it’s not illegal in California.

I would cheerfully pay the extra fees if it would employee more to maybe, just maybe, removed a few folks who really should not be behind the wheel. Well perhaps more that just a few.

This approach will never fly, of course. Apparently the basic view in California is, “Driving is a right, not a privilege.” This is the exact opposite of the correct answer on the written exam, but it’s the theory the state clearly puts in practice.

It seems that the only way to restore competence on the roads is to enforce it at the license renewal.

Driving is a privilege! But we also have an expectation that others will maintain a level of competence and reliability that will make it safe for all.

Dick Hagerty, an Oakdale real estate developer active in non-profits. Send comments or questions to columns@modbee.com.

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