Monday, February 18, 2013

Should Vt. seniors face stricter driver's license renewal rules?

It's driver's ed all over again for a group of 16 seniors at the Jericho Library. The group is taking a four-hour AARP class to sharpen their defensive driving. For some who first got behind the wheel before four-lane roads or a 65 mph speed limit, the refresher class provides some important pointers.
"We cover the new experiences with vehicles, the new equipment-- ABS brakes, driving on the interstate, seat belts, air bags," said Douglas Masson, the volunteer instructor.
While some of these drivers will continue to drive into their 80s, others will face the difficult choice of when to hang up the car keys for good.
"You'd prefer to make the decision yourself and see it yourself, but if you don't, then you should pay attention to the people who are close to you and if they are seeing that you're not doing very well then it's a heads up," said Marilyn MacKenzie, 75.
Vermont lawmakers will soon be grappling with a bill that transfers some of those difficult decisions away from individuals and families, and into the hands of the DMV. The measure would require a vision test for license renewals at age 75 and a road test for those turning 80.
"We have no mechanism for our reviewing drivers of a certain age. This bill is to get that conversation going," said Rep. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock. "This bill is to say that we know that the accident rates are substantial with our older drivers and our younger drivers. We address the younger drivers. We don't address the older drivers and it's time we had that conversation."
Vermont's license renewal schedule-- every four years-- is among the shortest in the country. But unlike more than two dozen other states, there are no additional requirements for older drivers, like a vision test or a road test.
AARP has come out strongly against the proposal.
"Well, you know if you have a bill that just looks at a specific person's age and asks them to go to the DMV for an eye test, you're not solving the problem here. The real problem here is we all want to get bad drivers off the road, whether they're 18 or 36 or 76 years old and this bill, all be it good intentions, is simply not going to accomplish that," said Greg Marchildon, the director of the Vt. AARP.
Back at the refresher class, Marilyn MacKenzie says as difficult as it is, she supports the legislative effort, even if it means losing some of her driving independence.
"When that time comes that I can't drive, I'll have to make some other decisions," she said. "It's just the way life is."
Like Vermont, New Hampshire and New York also have no driving license renewal requirements for seniors. In New York, renewals are every eight years.

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