Older Pennsylvania Motorists Pose Risks, Face Few Regulations

By Ashley M. Simatic

INDIANA, Pa. – On Oct. 29, a 21-year-old IUP student died after suffering injuries from a motorcycle accident that occurred when a 74-year-old man failed to yield and made a left-hand turn into his path, according to police.

Mark Dushok was riding his motorcycle north on U.S. Route 119 when a southbound pickup truck made a left-hand turn at state Route 56 in Homer City. Dushok died in surgery. The driver of the pickup truck was not injured.

In 25 percent of crashes involving an older driver and a younger driver, the older driver was turning left – five times as often as the younger driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Traffic Safety Facts from 2007.

Pennsylvania has the nation’s second highest percentage of senior citizens, behind Florida, said Trina Reddish, supervisor of Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation’s Medical Unit in Harrisburg, in an April 2 telephone interview.

As of the end of 2006, senior citizens age 65 and older made up 15.5 percent of Indiana County’s total population, and 81.3 percent of Indiana County’s senior citizens had driver’s licenses.

Florida requires license-renewal applicants age 80 and over to have a vision test, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute. Pennsylvania has no driving regulations specifically for senior citizens, Reddish said.

And she said the state should not require testing of older drivers.

“It’s discriminatory to ask someone to come in and take a test based on their age.” Reddish said. “We just had a 101-year-old gentleman who was reported for medical issues come in and pass the driver’s test on his first try.”

Pennsylvania does have safety programs that affect older motorists.

“We have several adequate and effective testing methods for all drivers – not just senior citizens,” said Danielle Klinger, PennDOT’s community relations coordinator in Harrisburg, in an April 2 telephone interview.

PennDOT requires 1,900 randomly selected drivers over age 45 to have a physical exam and eye test monthly.

“The selection is done via a computerized system that randomly selects drivers ages 45 and older by zip code,” Klinger said. “The number of people the system selects is based on the size of the population in that particular zip code.”

If the results of these exams indicate a problem, the driver will be required to take a driver’s examination. Fewer than 1 percent of selected drivers need to take the driver’s exam, according to PennDOT’s Web site.

By law, doctors must report to PennDOT any patient over the age of 15 with a medical condition that may affect driving.

“State law overrides HIPAA,” Reddish said.

HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, outlines national standards to protect the privacy of personal health information.

Also, Pennsylvania State Police report to PennDOT any drivers who cause accidents and who may need to be retested, Klinger said.

Options for safety-conscious senior citizen drivers in Indiana County exist.

AARP offers a driver safety course for senior citizens that costs $10. IndiGO, Indiana County Transit Authority’s public bus system, has 15 different routes and is free to senior citizens.

PennDOT also offers a graduated license, which grants various degrees of driving privileges. The low-vision restricted license, issued to drivers with vision between 20/70 and 20/100, limits drivers to daylight driving on roads other than freeways. PennDOT may limit these drivers to certain geographic areas.

Dushok is still missed.

“It’s a shame we lost Mark,” said Anthony Perriello (junior, finance), who was a friend of Dushok’s, in an April 17 telephone interview. “He was at my house earlier that day. I was asleep and in the middle of the night my roommate came in and said that Mark had died. It was a shocker, and it was even worse that his death could have been prevented.”

Ashley M. Simatic, a junior majoring in journalism at IUP, is from Jefferson, Pa.

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