Griffs Notes 6/5/07

This morning I read the news that the DC City Council was scheduled to vote on a measure that decides whether or not the DMV will continue enforcing a law that requires elderly drivers (75 and up) to pass written and field tests to maintain their driver’s licenses. Apparently, sometime last year the DMV began this enforcement that lead to an outcry of complaints from the District’s seniors and the AARP and ultimately resulted in the Mayor’s suspending of the tests.

Upon reading the news, I was taken back to a scene of one of the great Clint Eastwood movies from my childhood Every Which Way But Loose. (It was actually the sequel Every Which Way You Can.) In the scene, Eastwood’s cantankerous mother “Ma Boggs” (played by Ruth Gordon) is being driven to the DMV to retake her driver’s test (she never seems to pass it) by her other son, Orville in his towing truck. Here’s how the conversation went:

Ma: I shoulda remembered my wig! Think it’ll make any difference?

Orville: I don’t know, ma? I don’t expect that’s all they’re gonna be looking at… I sure hope you pass it this time, Ma. There ain’t too many more of these places you can go – they all know you!

Ma: Don’t know how I drive – Don’t none of them know how GOOD I drive… Been driving since before them sons of ******* were born!!

The scene perfectly captures the essence of the emotional part of this debate: losing one’s independence. And I can only imagine that as liberating of a moment it was in your life when you finally reached the driving age, the opposite is true of the day when it is taken away.

But arguably, there is a serious and legitimate public safety concern. According to data from AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety, drivers between the ages of 75-84, the rate of deaths were about 3 per 100 million miles driven – a figure pretty much equal to that of teenage drivers. But for drivers 85 and older, the fatality rate is nearly four times the teenagers. Figures for 2005 show that 11% of fatal crashes involved drivers in the 85+ group, but with the baby boomers there is a prediction that we can expect an increase to almost 25% by 2030.

According to a USA Today article, “twenty-three states require drivers of a certain age to appear periodically at a department of motor vehicles office to renew their license.” And after researching the topic, it would appear that most seniors actually choose to stop driving on their own generally speaking.

And at the risk of upsetting our wisest members of society, the Washington Post wrote in an editorial today in reference to the District’s case, “It may not be what they want, but the best interests of seniors as well as everyone else lie in the council not doing their bidding and leaving a good policy alone.”

I spoke with AARP’s Spokeswoman Eleanor Ginzler who told me that on a national level, the AARP would like to see “all states identify effective methods to address at-risk drivers at the time of renewal.” The AARP also offers information and details about their “Driver Safety Program” that one can find on their website at

Both of my parents are in their seventies and are good drivers. In fact, my dad has 20-10 vision and I wear glasses – so what does that tell you?! But I think just about all of us have encountered the proverbial “little ol’ lady” driving with little recognition of the rest of us on the road.

I support – at the risk of being admonished by my elders – the idea of screening for at-risk drivers at the time of renewal. And I am reminded of some advice given to me by a fine law enforcement officer at my very first speeding ticket some twenty years ago: Driving is a privilege, not a right.

And to steal the old drinking and driving saying, “know when to say when.”

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