DMV helps with hard decisions

Published 9:38 pm Monday, May 19, 2014

One of the high points in the life of most Americans — at least most of them who don’t live in cities with extensive public transportation options like New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. — is the day when she gets her driver’s license.

In a country known for freedom and independence, the car is the ultimate symbol for the national spirit. Around the nation, Americans have a tendency to subconsciously ascribe their sense of independence to their ability to fill the car with a tank of gas and take off, and the day they receive their license to drive is the day they join the ranks of the nation’s theoretical nomads.

If getting one’s license is such a seminal event to a young person, then giving it up — or having it taken away — at the other end of a long life of driving could be even more life-changing. People who have grown used to taking care of their own daily needs by getting into their cars and heading out for their own errands find it understandably hard to adjust to a life in which they are dependent on others to help them get around.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

A medical review process under the purview of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles helps officials make objective decisions about when a driver’s license should be surrendered for reasons other than traffic-, drug- or alcohol-related offenses. Anybody can be required to submit to the review, but nearly half of the 4,502 referrals DMV received in 2012 were for older drivers, officials say.

Curiously, the agency accepts referrals from just about anyone for the review process. Family members, law enforcement officers, neighbors — “anyone can report a person they believe may have impaired driving ability for us to take a look at,” DMV spokeswoman Sunni Brown told the Suffolk News-Herald’s Tracy Agnew last week.

The program snared 92-year-old Andy Damiani earlier this year. Damiani, a former Suffolk mayor and downtown stalwart who’s known for walking the sidewalks of the community he loves, said he recently had to submit documents showing the results of a recent physical and eye exam to DMV after someone — he didn’t know who — told DMV his license should be reviewed.

Damiani is still awaiting word from the DMV about the results of the investigation, but in the meantime, he has voluntarily given up driving at night or out of town.

It’s a situation many families of aging drivers will recognize. The tension between a senior citizen’s desire to maintain his independence and a family’s (and community’s) need for safety means decisions about surrendering driver’s licenses can cause serious conflicts.

The DMV’s program can help alleviate those conflicts by requiring elderly drivers to provide evidence they have the necessary faculties to be safe on the roads.

As nearly every parent and driving instructor tells nearly every teenager working to get a driver’s license, driving is a privilege, not a right. Hard as it may be to accept for someone who has been driving for many decades, driving continues to be a privilege that can — and should — be taken away when it becomes dangerous to the elderly driver and those who share the road with her.