Putting on the Brakes

"I've had some medical problems, so I don't know how long I'll be able to drive," says Clarence Fogelstrom, who had to retake the D.C. road test. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Clarence Fogelstrom has been driving nearly 50 years, but he was nervous this month when he took the road test now required of District drivers 75 and older.

"I flunked it," said Fogelstrom, 78, a retired federal government employee who suffers tremors in his left hand. He said he never found out exactly what he did wrong.

So Fogelstrom, who gets around in a 1994 Saturn, went back to the crowded D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles facility in Brentwood on Friday for a second try. This time, he passed and received his reissued driver's license.

"I've had some medical problems, so I don't know how long I'll be able to drive," said Fogelstrom, a Capitol Hill resident. "I'm hoping it's going to be good."

In May 2005, the DMV started enforcing a little-known 34-year-old law that states drivers 75 or older may be required to take special tests. About 13,000 older drivers in the District must pass computerized written and road tests every five years when their licenses come up for renewal -- and that's on top of the vision and medical tests required after their 70th birthday to prove they can still drive safely.

These requirements are the strictest laws governing the mandatory testing of senior drivers in the area and among the strictest in the country. New Hampshire and Illinois also require road tests for older drivers.

Some drivers complained that the law unfairly targets older people, who count themselves among the most cautious motorists.

"Four tests for people who have driven all their life is not really justified," said George Modelski, 81, of Northwest Washington, who renewed his license a few weeks ago. "It's regulatory overkill."

But Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said AAA surveys show there is overwhelming support for some kind of testing for seniors, and statistics support the need. The eyes of a 50-year-old take 10 times longer to adjust to a change in light than those of a 20-year-old, he said.

"We all know we lose that flexibility," Anderson said. "Our peripheral vision isn't as good, and the ability to turn our necks is more limited to see traffic from all directions."

In Virginia, drivers 80 and older have been required since 2004 to take a vision test and appear in person at the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew their licenses. In Maryland, the law requires only a vision test, which can be taken at the Motor Vehicle Administration office or signed by a doctor and brought to the MVA.

Any jurisdiction can require additional tests of drivers whose skills have been questioned by law enforcement officials, physicians, family members or others.

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