Readers weigh in on our proposal to test senior drivers for safety.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 2001

TOM: Here are some more thoughts from our readers on the column we wrote about senior drivers. We called for some sort of testing to weed out folks whose reflexes have deteriorated to the point where they can no longer safely operate a car. Many of you agreed with us and have personal stories to tell.

Dear Tom and Ray:

Just a comment on your column about retesting elderly drivers: THANK YOU!!! Now the history of my effusive gratitude: My father put me in the same position. He had a stroke several years ago, and it impaired his memory, and thus his reasoning ability. His doctor told him to quit driving, so he began to hate the doctor. Then I moved in with him to take care of him, and I began to notice that his car was getting scratched up, he broke off a side mirror, and he told me stories about his driving adventures that, frankly, scared me. When he nearly ran over a dog at a park that was crowded with small children, I was convinced I had to do something. In Georgia, where we live, there are only two avenues available: A judge could order him to be retested, or his doctor could write a letter to the state, stating that he needed to be retested. I didn't want to wait for him to have an accident and come to the attention of a judge (obviously!), so I went through his doctor. I had to put my request in writing, then the doctor had to contact the state, which sent Dad a note to come in within 10 days for testing. Again, Dad was furious with the doctor -- until I told him that I'd been the one to start the process. Surprisingly, he didn't shift his anger toward me, at least not obviously. He failed the driving portion of the test, and he had a ton of excuses why. One man at the testing site looked at me like I was a pariah for "doing" this to my father. And the state sent him several notices that he could come in for a retest, but I threw them all away, knowing that Dad really shouldn't be on the road. I totally agree that retesting should be mandatory, but why every five years? It should be done every time older drivers renew their licenses, which here in Georgia is every four years. It's not just the physical skills that decline. In Dad's case, it was both physical and mental skills. He simply lacked the judgment to make proper choices while driving, which put everyone around him in danger. I hope you guys don't get ragged on by the elderly population or the AARP and AAA (not to mention the ASPCA and NBA!). You're quite right to advocate mandatory retesting, and I'm glad you took a stand. Thank you! -- Leza

TOM: Thanks, Leza. Not all parents would be as understanding toward you as your father was. And not all children would be willing to move in with a parent to make sure he has all the things he needs. As hard as it was to get there, your situation actually worked out pretty well.

RAY: But because it's such a difficult situation to put a parent and child in, we really think the states -- the folks who give out the licenses -- have a responsibility to figure out when to take licenses back. So far, only New Hampshire and Illinois even retest seniors renewing their licenses starting at age 75. Here's one more letter today on the subject:

Dear Tom and Ray:

I had a problem with my mother, who was about 85 and still driving (if you can call it driving). She had been in a number of accidents and was a danger on the road. I was told that there was nothing I could do to stop her from driving. I decided to contact the registry of motor vehicles in Rhode Island, where she lived. They called her in ("as a random check of drivers of all ages"). My wife brought her in, as my mother would probably have gotten lost. After speaking with my mother for a short time, it became obvious that she was a possible danger on the road. She had to take a road test. When she went, she failed the eye exam. She never took the road test, which I'm sure she would have failed. My mother, who is now in a nursing home, never knew that anybody reported her. If anyone knows of people who are a danger to themselves and others, I would strongly recommend reporting them to the registry. Your name will be kept confidential, and you might save some lives. -- Richard

RAY: Wouldn't it be better if the state initially really DID call your mother in for a test? We think so. But thanks for writing, Richard. This technique might help some people who don't want a confrontation.

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