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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Rules for Older Drivers Relaxed in Washington, D. C.

D.C. Officials to Disallow Rule Stating Drivers 75 or Older Must Pass a Road Test and Written Exam.

Recently, Washington D. C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced the suspension of road tests and written exams for drivers 75 or older upon renewal of their licenses, and the D.C. Council is primed to pass a bill that would permanently disallow the Department of Motor Vehicles from administering driving tests based simply on age.

Illinois and New Hampshire are the only two states to require road tests for all older drivers upon renewal of their licenses. The district was the only jurisdiction to necessitate written tests.

"It's an insult for people like me who have an extremely clean record," said Giuseppe Morra, 80, a retired World Bank employee.

Officials in the District of Columbia, and around the country, are anticipating an increase in older drivers, as aging baby boomers become senior citizens.

DMV officials uncovered the law, decades old, on the district's books that give the agency the power to demand that drivers over 75 to retake the road test and the written test every five years. In May 2006, the department began wielding that power.

Detractors, such as the AAA, argued that the DMV policy discriminated against the elderly. According to the AARP, testing like this is not an efficient way to detect which drivers pose a risk.

"Getting older is not a walk in the park," said Tom Leary, a district resident who testified at a hearing last week. "To have this additional burden imposed on our ability to move freely is, I think, unconscionable."

Although only some jurisdictions oblige new testing for older drivers, nearly half the states have detailed principles to address them.

Anyone can warn officials about a driver whose condition concerns him or her in Maryland and Virginia. Such a warning can commence a review by a medical panel, which can restrict or revoke a senior citizen's driving privileges.

The District of Columbia DMV will still be allowed to demand a driver pass the tests if explicit concerns about the person's driving abilities are raised.

The chief of the medical advisory board of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, Dr. Carl A. Soderstrom, said most older drivers regulate themselves.

At a D.C. Council hearing, he testified, "The overwhelming majority of drivers, as parts wear out, do what's necessary - stop driving at night, avoid busy roads."

An expert at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Anne McCartt, felt that there is proof that simply asking older drivers to appear in person to renew their licenses does help reduce the number of crashes involving elderly drivers.

But McCartt did not find a road test requirement to be unwarranted.

"Drivers of any age who don't do as well on road tests are probably at a higher risk of crashing," McCartt said.

Both the Mayor's temporary solution and the council bill keep in place the prerequisite that drivers age 70 and older appear in person to renew their licenses in order to take a reflex test and eye exam. Additionally, they also must present documentation from a physician that they are able to drive.

When Morra, whose license is set to expire in August, was told of the Mayor's announcement, he said: "That's beautiful news."

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