Right to drive not auto-matic
Legislators need to update the way Oregonians get -- and keep -- their driver's licenses
Monday, March 24, 2008
More than 3 million Oregonians are licensed to use a deadly weapon.
Most of them use it every day: their automobile.
The casualty count -- about 450 highway deaths each year -- is considerable. But beyond grief and suffering, traffic accidents, including the most minor, carry a secondary -- and enormous -- social cost.
They cause congestion -- worsening pollution and wasting precious fossil fuels. That then prompts ever greater investment in ever more infrastructure in an effort to keep things moving. Meanwhile, the simple truth remains that if everyone in Oregon drove properly, there would not be a capacity problem on any of our highways.
It's time now for Oregon to take far more seriously the business of licensing people to drive. The current system is broken.
Far too many school districts have slashed driver education from their budgets. Far too many youngsters now learn to drive from someone who likely learned to drive 30 years ago from someone who likely learned to drive in 1950.
As for taking the test, sure there's a written exam. Cramming for it takes all of 12 minutes. Then there's that brief spell behind the wheel during which you go nowhere near a freeway or need to parallel park.
And once you snag a license, it's pretty much yours for life.
Through the years, the state has managed to squeeze precious few safeguards into the system. Doctors are required to report, confidentially, any patient in whom they see something untreatable that is severe enough to make driving unsafe.
In recent years, police officers also have been able to call, confidentially, for license re-evaluation. The Oregon Transportation Commission has wisely restored the rule making police requests public. Good. Cops need no shield of anonymity.
The commission must, however, reject calls for an end to the system, in sensible use since 1987, by which friends and family can report confidentially on loved ones who become unsafe drivers because of age, medical condition or physical ailment. Last year, the state received more than 2,200 such requests for re-evaluation. More than half the targeted drivers were older than 75. Each simply had to be re-tested, risk license suspension or retire from the road.
The next step is for legislators to thoroughly revamp the ways in which Oregon drivers get -- and keep -- their licenses. It makes absolutely no sense that we continue to spend billions on expanding Oregon's transportation infrastructure -- and next to nothing on teaching Oregonians how to use it.
©2008 The Oregonian