Wednesday , September 13 2017
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Older driver

Once more with feeling

“I’ve failed their stupid road test twice now,” Dan snorted. “One more time and those idiots at the DMV are gonna take my license!”

I had to hold the phone away from my ear. He was really wound up tight and with good reason. His wife had passed away just six months before. Now they were after his driver’s license. Losing that would mean selling the house and moving in with his kids in another city. It would mean selling the motorhome. He needed space, so I waited for him to let off some more steam then said, “Okay, now calm down and tell me what got you into this.”

He took a deep breath, let out a sigh and started talking again.

“Wasn’t my fault,” he growled. “A guy turned left in front of me so I had to hit the brakes to keep from hitting him. The woman behind me couldn’t stop in time and rear-ended me. Naturally the creep who caused it never stopped and it happened so fast nobody got his number.”

He went on to explain that it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. Yes, an officer arrived and took statements from everybody for the accident report, but all seemed pretty routine. Nobody was ticketed and everybody went on their way. Then Dan said something under his breath that I didn’t quite hear. I asked him to repeat it.

“I can’t say for sure,” he said, “but I think the cop thought my age had something to do with what happened. It was just something about the questions he asked and how he asked them.”

Dan had just turned 70.

Insurance took care of the damages and Dan thought little more about it until out of nowhere he got the notice saying that he had to report to the DMV for a driver license test.

“Wait a minute,” Dan said to himself, checking his license to make sure. “My license doesn’t expire for another year and a half, so what’s this all about?”

There’s a popular saying going around these days that goes, “Today’s 70 is yesterday’s 50.” This makes sense to those of us who are getting closer to those magic years and to most everyone else, except of course those who view anyone over 30 as a dinosaur. But it seems as if the state driver license people don’t see it that way. Older drivers are getting more attention than ever. Usually this attention comes when (a) license renewal time comes around, (b) we get ticketed for a moving violation or (c) we are involved in a collision.

Not long ago, I worked with a 68-year-old widow who was in a similar situation. She put it this way, “It’s almost as if the state wants to get everybody over 60 off the road,” she complained, “no matter how good we drive.”

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard somebody say this or something similar. The word “discrimination” has started creeping into these conversations with older drivers.

I call them “sneaky little subsections.” These are seemingly insignificant rules and regulations that creep into the traffic code when we’re not looking, but can have life changing consequences for some. In some jurisdictions now, for example, a person can be reported as a risky driver at any time by virtually anyone — and here comes the “sneaky” part — the report can be made  anonymously! You may never know where that vicious left hook came from. I’ll leave it up to you to search them out, but chances are your state has some.

But let’s get back to Dan. Why would a healthy and alert retired long haul trucker with a valid driver’s license and a clean driving record be required to take a state driving test? All Dan did was get involved in a fender bender. But that was all it took. And, it wasn’t even his fault.

If you’re an older driver involved in a crash and an officer or someone else at the scene thinks you look a little unsteady or confused — and who wouldn’t after getting plowed into from behind — then, you can be reported as a driver with safety issues. This could lead to anything from having a doctor fill out a simple medical form to a complete re-testing process and possible loss of license. Of course, if you’re found to be at fault in a collision, your chances of being reported, along with the possible consequences, go up accordingly.

Even more puzzling is why Dan, with his 50 years of driving experience (28 of them as a professional driver), would be having trouble passing a simple state road test. With his experience it should be child’s play for him, right? Actually it was Dan’s experience that was defeating him.

I knew exactly what would be on Dan’s tests even before I looked at them. On the test that Dan took there is a section called violations and dangerous actions. Within that section is a subsection entitled habits and listed there are some mysterious initials: SI, RS and HC. There is a fourth item listed elsewhere on the score sheet called SP. There are many ways to fail these tests but these are the designations for the four driving errors that applicants make most, especially experienced applicants like Dan, and these bad habits are taken very seriously by licensing examiners.

Here they are:

  • We fail to signal for turns, lane changes, and when merging (SI for signal).
  • We fail to stop completely at stop signs or we stop in the wrong places (RS for rolling stop).
  • We fail to turn our heads to check blind spots when merging, changing lanes and backing (HC for head checks). C’mon! You remember what your drivers ed instructor told you!
  • And SP? It’s the number one cause of collisions. Speed!

We all sometimes fail to obey speed limits. How would you score yourself on these issues? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Knowing these things may help you keep from becoming a victim of those sneaky little subsections. My best advice is to, first, lose those bad habits to keep from getting caught in the searchlight in the first place and, second, if you are made to take the test, give yourself a better shot at passing. Again, lose those bad habits, and the others you’ve picked up along the way

By the way, Dan’s tests must have set a record for bad habits. But he really took the plunge on head checks. Our conversation went something like this:

Dan said, “What’s this HC (bleep)?”

I explained about head checks.

Dan said, “I been driving for 50 (bleeping) years and never did (bleeping) head checks and in all those 50 (bleeping) years — and never had one (bleeping) accident!”

My answer was simple. I said, “If you don’t do head checks, you will probably die in a car wreck next week!”

I let that sink in for a minute then added, “Oh, yeah, and beside that, you will not pass the test.”

Next day, after we spent a couple of hours in the car, he took the test for the third time and passed with 98 percent and a compliment from the examiner. Nobody EVER gets a compliment from an examiner!

About Robert Sears

Robert Sears is a professional driving instructor who once owned a company that trained more than 70,000 people to drive. Today he is an author working on several non-fiction books and writing traffic safety articles for consumer and special interest publications. He is a 30-year motorhome owner who has logged several hundred thousand miles of RV driving experience.

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