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PennDOT says mature driver reexamination used for safety not age discrimination

Older drivers fearful of age discrimination being used to single them out
Older drivers fearful of age discrimination being used to single them out
Photo by Tom Ervin/Getty Images

As it was reported in PennLive today, PennDOT's director of the Bureau of Driver Licensing was interviewed and asked to respond to the newspaper's reader comments about the state agency's mature driver reexamination program. In a May 22 article, it was reported that an 89-year old Steelton man contacted the local newspaper to complain that PennDOT unfairly revoked his driver's license. Ray Pugliese claimed that when he failed the driver skill test that his stellar driving record was not considered as a mitigating factor. Pugliese said that the computerized test was challenging and that he misunderstood the letters from PennDOT about getting a medical examination as part of his license renewal. Deemed unsafe to drive, Pugliese said he is forced to rely on a neighbor to drive him or take public transportation. As people age the likelihood that their vision, hearing, and cognition becomes impaired increases over each passing day. Reaction time slows and it may take the driver longer to process changes that were easier in younger years. One commenter said, "An operator gets behind the wheel of a machine that requires you to make hundreds of decisions after you put it in drive. To most of us, driving is 'second nature', but like every machine or computer that gets older, our senses deteriorate, reactions get slower and memory fails. We all should be in top notch shape to drive and avoid risk to ourselves and more importantly to others."

In referencing mature drivers, one might conjure the image of a person with gray hair and wrinkles who is over the age of 65. In learning that PennDOT defines a mature driver not as the typical retiree but as a person who is age 45 years or older, public reaction took a different tone in the comments section. One poster said,"I am surprised I never heard of such testing before, and I think it is silly to target people over 45." Another commenter said, "Fix the potholes; most state roads are still a disaster, the potholes are a bigger hazard than over 45 drivers."According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age in Pennsylvania is 40 years merely five years away from being considered a mature driver. On a monthly basis PennDOT randomly selects from a database of about 1,650 Pennsylvania drivers, who are age 45 or older, and informs them that in order to renew their driver's license that they must obtain and pass a physical examination. According to Chapter 83 of the Pennsylvania Code, the physical exam includes a test of visual acuity and other physical and medical standards of health to be able to drive in the Keystone state. A standard license remains active for four years but changes to a two-year renewal for drivers who are age 65 or older. If a driver does not pass their medical exam, the Medical Advisory Board requires physicians to report the name, date of birth, and address of the individual. What may seem like blatant age discrimination is actually a requirement of the medically impaired driver law which PennDOT's website says is about keeping all drivers safe and healthy on the roadways.

Seniors For Safe Driving (SFSD)purport that people of any age may be good or bad drivers and that an individual's driving skills should not be assessed by age alone. Just the same, they acknowledge that "the number of accidents per mile driven goes up around the age of 60, and gets much higher after 75." That being said, age in and of itself does not make a driver a risk on the roadways. Rather, it is medical conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, vision problems, or a neurocognitive disorder resulting from a stroke, Parkinsons disease, Alzheimers disease that causes accidents on the roads. To assist older drivers with being safe on the roads, SFSD provides driver improvement classes that upon completion and continued eligibility provides a 5% discount reduction on car insurance rates for three years. Comments referenced the voting power mature drivers hold in Pennsylvania and not to underestimate the baby boomers at the polls. Although Pennsylvania's older adults have been more active at the polls than younger voters, the tide is beginning to change. A 2008 Brookings report noted that voting among groups aged 18-29 and 30-39 surpassed the number of voters in older age categories. With over 22,000 reports of medically unsafe drivers being reported to PennDOT each year, the state agency must address each situation which equates to balancing the rights of one driver against everyone else. Nevertheless, there are individuals who believe that their civil rights and liberties are more important than driving safe on the roads. It is wise to avoid those drivers at all costs as this is likely an attitude unrelated to maturity and closer to arrogance that can be expressed at any age.