Pa. Steers Clear Of Retesting Older Drivers Strictly Because Of Age
By Jan Murphy – May 21, 2014
Eighty-nine-year-old Steelton native Ray Pugliese owns a car, but now his neighbor is the only one who drives it.
Earlier this month, Pugliese had his driving privileges revoked.
“I’m a good driver. I don’t have an accident history,” he said. But none of that matters.
He said he couldn’t pass the state Department of Transportation’s computerized driver’s skill test after taking it a couple of times. He found the test confusing and said it “asked crazy questions.”
He also didn’t understand the connection between his driving and the letters he received from PennDOT about getting a medical examination.
The whole situation disgusted him enough to call PennLive to complain about how PennDOT has left him in a situation where he is pretty much homebound except for an occasional outing with his neighbor.
He is one of Pennsylvania’s growing number of drivers over the age of 80. Since 2003, the number of octogenarians or older on the road have increased 31 percent to 424,809 drivers.
But Pennsylvania, unlike other states, has no special rules that apply strictly to the licensing of older drivers other than offering a 5 percent discount on insurance to drivers age 55 and up who complete a driver improvement course.
Further, checks with the House and Senate transportation committee staff found that no legislation specifically dealing with the state’s growing population of older drivers is pending or even been introduced in the past four years, if not longer.
However, PennDOT statistics show the number of crashes involving drivers age 65 and older in 2013 was up 12 percent from five years before.
Ted Leonard, executive director of the Pennsylvania AAA Federation, said he has heard PennDOT officials discuss this issue on several occasions but little has changed.
“They don’t want to set some sort of program up that leans toward older drivers because you can have an 80-year-old driver who is as good a driver as a 16-year-old,” Leonard said.
The age when the other states’ special requirements kick in typically begin between the ages of 65 and 75. Two-fifths of the states make senior drivers renew their licenses more frequently or in person. Some require those drivers to take vision, driving knowledge and/or on-road driving tests.
Instead of focusing on age, however, PennDOT chooses to let driver’s competency be the determining factor in whether a person is able to drive.
Every month, the department randomly selects 1,900 of the state’s more than nearly 5 million licensed drivers over the age of 45 to be retested. Those who are chosen are required to undergo vision and physical exams by health care providers of their own choosing within seven months of their license renewal.
Based on the results of those exams, a driver might be required to take a driver’s test to preserve his or her driving privileges.
In addition to PennDOT’s random selection, a doctor or family member also can report a driver of any age who they believe have an impairment affecting their ability to drive, PennDOT spokeswoman Jan McKnight said.
Those can be submitted by writing a detailed letter regarding their observations and the driver’s specific medical impairment, along with their own name and contact information, to PennDOT, P.O. Box 68682, Harrisburg 17106-8682.
A medical unit at PennDOT evaluates those reports and determines whether a driver’s test is needed, McKnight said.
Medical reporting produces about 22,000 reports annually of which about half result in having driving privileges recalled; however, only half of those recalls involve drivers age 65 or higher, she said.
If Pennsylvania were to follow the lead of other states that require older drivers to be retested, it would not come without its problems.
“It would exacerbate the problem we have with crowded testing centers,” longtime executive director of the House Transportation Committee Eric Bugaile said. “It would cause us to have to hire new staff and, of course, that’s costly. That’s less money available to fix the roads.”
He said he thinks PennDOT’s system of using random selection is sufficient to weed out the drivers whose licenses should be recalled.
Many times, he said older drivers recognize it’s time to hang up their car keys and they don’t reply when they receive a notice about getting a medical exam to hold on to their driving privileges. Others might go in for a test and not pass and that takes care of it.
Rather, he said it encourages members to avail themselves to the driver improvement courses and to be vigilant in monitoring their own driving skills and those of loved ones “because everybody’s priority has to be safety.”
His organization as well as AAA and the Safe Driving for Seniors are among the groups that offer driver training courses targeted to older drivers.
Those courses touch on not so much the mechanics of driving but rather the aging processes impact on vision, hearing, reaction time and other vital skills needed for driving as well as tips on avoiding difficult driving circumstances.
Rather than focusing on new laws regulating senior drivers, he said AARP is concerned about improving roads and travel environment for all drivers and making sure that alternatives such as mass transit are available to help seniors remain productive and connected to their families.
Meanwhile, Pugliese, who has no family in the immediate area and was unfamiliar with the shared-ride services available through the Dauphin County Area on Agency, said the recall of his license leaves him stuck at home with a car parked outside that he can no longer drive.
“I have a brother in Texas,” he said. “Guess I’ll have to move to Texas.”