A mild critique of new DMV plans for the screening and testing of older drivers.


To the Editor:

A recent issue of the Sacramento Bee (2 August 2003) has a front page headline that read, "DMV seeks to target unfit drivers" which discussed the new plan of the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to check on and test drivers, particularly older drivers, for possible driving skills impairment. On the face of it, this would seem to be an excellent idea. However, as they say, the devil is in the details. Fortunately, these plans must be first approved by the State Legislature.


One part of this proposed DMV driver test would include rapidly identifying the silhouettes of vehicles and then classifying them as either cars or trucks. This presents a large problem: SUVs, which are thought by many folks to be "cars," but they are classified by the federal government as "light trucks."


Some drivers would be given in-vehicle "hands-on" driving tests. Supposedly if one made a "critical driving error" one would automatically be disqualified from renewing one's driver's license. A "critical driving error" is defined as a motorist "causing another driver or pedestrian to have to take evasive action."


Funny, as a pedestrian attempting to use a cross-walk on a busy street, I often have to take "evasive action" to avoid being hit by motorists who refuse to honor the cross-walk users right-of-way. And yet these folks have valid driver's licenses. If they are caught by the police and given a ticket for "failure to yield to a pedestrian in a cross-walk," they merely get a point added to their DMV license record. They do not lose their driver's license for this action.


Let's be clear on one thing: that awful accident in July 2003 in Santa Monica at the temporary Farmer's Market which was staged on a public street that was blocked off with flimsy wooden sawhorses could have entirely been prevented with the installation of a row of closely spaced temporary steel post barriers set in the roadway. Of course, this action would have required forethought and a small city expense.


Actually, just getting teenagers to wear their safety belts while driving would probably save more lives in this country than massive testing of senior-aged drivers. According to a recent article in the Contra Costa Times (3 August 2003), two-thirds of the 5,341 teenagers killed in automobile accidents were not wearing their safety belts at the time of the accidents.


A high school graduation requirement of completing a driver's education class would probably do more to save lives than the proposed massive testing of older drivers. But this requirement would require effort and cost money to implement.


Yours truly,


James K. Sayre


3 August 2003