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License to Deprive

For a senior, they are terrible words: 'You can't drive anymore'

September 14, 2003|Frances Ring | Frances Ring, former editor of Westways, is the author of "Against the Current: As I remember F. Scott Fitzgerald."

Two months ago, on a warm summer day, a senior driver lost control of his car and slammed into an open farmer's market, with tragic results. The horror of the incident was broadcast nationally and resulted in an uproar: Get the seniors off the road. As I am a senior and was then in the process of trying to get my license restored, my heart sank. Friends called. You'll never get your license now.

I have never been concerned about aging. It's part of the life process. As an octogenarian, I have continued to work and function with confidence. I do not drink. I do not smoke. I do not drive freeways. I have not received a traffic violation in years. I'd been given a safe-driver discount on my insurance. I am of sound mind and body. I have no major disease. I do not take any medication. I walk on my own two feet without assistance.

Yet, a year ago, my driver's license was revoked after I failed a driving test three times. I had easily passed the written and eye tests. But on the driving tests, they said I drove too slowly, too fast, used rearview mirrors instead of turning my head, etc. The effect was shattering. I have been driving all my adult life. Now my license was revoked. How would I get home? They gave me a pass to return home. Ironic? It was safe for me to drive home, but nowhere else?

I know many readers will look at the evidence of my failed tests and be thankful the state has removed a potential killer from the roads. But if you had ever driven with me, you'd know it wasn't like that. My record on the road speaks for itself. When my college-age granddaughter heard that I'd lost my license, she was incredulous. "I can't imagine you not driving, Grandma." I may have gotten more cautious as I got older, less apt to drive during rush hour, but my driving was safe.

I live in a canyon -- have lived there for 35 years -- where no public transportation is available. I am totally dependent on an auto to do the most minimal activity, like going to a market, a bank, a post office, a dentist. I am still a functioning citizen -- I read, I write, I lecture -- yet I cannot go to a bookstore or library except by taxi, which is very expensive.

In an attempt to regain my license, I enrolled in an accredited driving school after obtaining permission from the DMV to do so. I completed the course satisfactorily. The instructor said he thought I'd have no problem with the driving test. After a couple of months, I received an appointment for a written and eye test. I passed both. More months passed before a hearing officer phoned and I was given an appointment for a restricted license test. If I passed, I could at least drive in my home area. Fine, except I could not use my car for the exam because when my license was revoked, my insurance was canceled. I called the driving school for a quick brush-up and permission to use the school car. All of this, I may add, at considerable expense.

I was confident. I know the canyon as I know my name. Every turn is familiar. I know the streets where I market. I know where to stop and go. The tester did not. I acted as a tour guide, pointing out the names of the streets, which she jotted down. I was both relaxed and nervous at the same time -- relaxed because I was on home base, nervous because I needed so desperately to pass.

Then there was a glitch: I was about to make a right turn and a car shot out of nowhere to make a left turn. I stopped, though I had the right of way, controlled the situation without panic, and returned up the canyon to my home. The tester would not say whether I had passed. Her major comment was that I lived so far from anything. In a week, I received another phone call from the hearing officer, who reported on the tester's comments. I was again declared unsafe. I was speechless. We couldn't have been in the same car, but I had no recourse.

I have concluded that the DMV thinks that seniors, especially women with white hair and visible wrinkles, should be put out to pasture. I want those responsible to know that they have deprived me of my mobility and my dignity as a competent individual, and have put me under house arrest for a crime I have not committed. Recently reported news stories reveal that other able, senior women drivers share my plight. If there had been a camera in that car, the tester would be proved wrong and have to reconsider the verdict.

In the meantime, the city needs to address the problem of providing transportation assistance to seniors who live spread across our far sprawl of a community.

As for me, gone is my license, my car insurance and a year of my life while all the drunk, drugged and careless drivers are free to engage in road wars and police chases. Put this on your record, DMV, and rest uneasily.

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