Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"Steer Clear"; Steer Clearly, Too

On September 8, 2006, Pennsylvania's new "Steer Clear" driving law took effect. Generally, motorists now must change lanes or slow down when they approach emergency workers, police, or tow trucks on the road. Senior drivers (anyone over the age of 45, according to standards of a driver review program established by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation) should be aware of the new law and its ramifications if violated.

Troop "F" of the Pennsylvania State Police summarizes the change in law, as follows:

Effective September 8, 2006, [Pennsylvania] motor vehicle law now requires drivers to move into a "nonadjacent lane" when approaching an emergency scene, police stop or a tow truck picking up a disabled vehicle along a highway.

If an adjacent lane is unavailable, illegal, or unsafe, drivers must pass the emergency response area at a careful and prudent reduced speed.

Drivers cited under the new law would face a fine of up to $250 and could have their operating privileges suspended. * * *

That summary, as well as the statutory amendment in its entirety, are found online here in a revised Section 3327 of Chapter 33 of the Vehicle Code ("Rules of the Road - In General").

The aim and implementation of this new driving law is discussed in an article, dated September 25, 2006, entitled "'Steer clear' law aims to prevent accidents", by Catherine Rodriguez, published in the Pocono Record Writer, found here:
Three Pennsylvania State Troopers have been killed since 1999 after being struck by drivers passing by traffic stops or accident scenes. And amazingly, between January 2005 and March 2006, 38 police cruisers were hit by passing cars, despite their flashing emergency lights. ***

Chief of the Coolbaugh Township Volunteer Fire Company Bernie Harrison said the law is a good thing. "It's for the safety of our personnel as well as for the drivers. Everyone's preoccupied with their CD player, cell phone, their friends. People aren't paying attention to their driving. It will require an effort to educate people but I think it will definitely be beneficial." ***

"No matter what the situation is on the road, we are at the mercy of a distracted or inattentive driver," said Harrison.
The law adds an usual reporting procedure by an "emergency service responder" who observes a violation of the new law. In a written, signed report delivered to police within 48 hours of an incident, an observing responder may indicate that a violation has occurred at a particular place & time, and provide information about the alleged violator and also about the vehicle's type, license number, & color. A police officer then can issue a citation, which would result in a summons.

PennDOT issued a press release on September 19, 2006 (found here & here) recognizing implementation of the new law.

Why is the new "Steer Clear" driving law important to seniors?

First, because it is a change in law altering driving habits in this state and increasing penalties for violation. Second, because a summary violation of the "Steer Clear" law (which could be difficult to defend if reported by a witnessing responder making a later report) could have a grave impact on a senior's future ability to drive at all.

PennDOT notes on a web page entitled "Mature Drivers", as follows:
There are nearly 1.4 million licensed drivers aged 65 and older in the Commonwealth, making up 16.7% of Pennsylvania's driving population. Pennsylvania is the fourth largest state in terms of population that is 65 or older. State Data Center statistics indicate that the number of Pennsylvanians 65 and older will increase 21% by the year 2020.

With Pennsylvania being a state with a very rural population, it is difficult for people to function without transportation. The loss of mobility can be devastating to the lives of older Pennsylvanians. Many older people are capable of driving safely, and have a lifetime of valuable driving experience to draw upon. PennDOT has created this page to provide access to information of interest to mature drivers and their families.
PennDOT provides links to information, including a 2-page "Fact Sheet" and also a 14-page pamphlet (Publication 345) entitled "Talking with Older Drivers". In its "Question & Answer" format, the pamphlet discusses many issues involving older drivers, including license retesting and revocation based not only on violations, but also on capability to operate a motor vehicle:
Q: How does PennDOT determine when an older person needs a physical, vision or driver’s exam in order to have a license renewed?

A: There are several ways PennDOT determines when a driver should be tested:
1) Medically incapacitated drivers of all ages may be identified by doctors. By law, all physicians, and others authorized to diagnose and treat disorders and disabilities, must report to PennDOT every person diagnosed as having a condition that could impair his ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.

2) Police and accident reports on drivers of all ages also help PennDOT determine who should be evaluated, and PennDOT may request medical or driver’s exams for those reported. Also, PennDOT receives letters from concerned family members and others. Drivers identified through these letters may be asked to complete an examination.

3) Each month, 1,650 drivers over the age of 45 are chosen at random for retesting at the time of license renewal and required to undergo vision and physical exams by doctors of their own choice. If the results of those exams suggest a need, the driver will also be required to take a driver’s examination. PennDOT has found that less than 1 percent of the selected drivers need to take the driver’s exam.
Q: What are some of the reasons for denying a license renewal or recalling a license?

A: When PennDOT receives medical information from a doctor, it starts an evaluation process. Based on the information submitted, one or more of the following may occur:
1) Restrictions to the person’s driving privilege may be added or deleted;
2) The person’s license may be recalled or restored;
3) The person may be asked to provide more specific medical information;
4) The person may be asked to complete a driver’s examination; or
5) No action may be taken.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, not the physician, makes the license determination.
To avoid intervention by PennDOT in driving privileges, "Steer Clear" near others' accidents, and always "Steer Clearly" to avoid your own accident.

* * *

Update: 02/03/07:

Another new PA law will affect all drivers -- the windshield wipers & lights law. See:
Pa.'s bright idea: Lights in the rain, by Lini S. Kadabar, in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 28, 2007.

if your windshield wipers are on, your headlights must be on too. The new law took effect in Pennsylvania on January 29, 2007.

Starting this week, when the wipers on the car go swish, swish, swish, the car's headlights better go shine, shine, shine, or else.

A new Pennsylvania law, effective tomorrow, requires motorists to turn on their headlights whenever they run the windshield wipers, even intermittently, due to rain, snow, sleet, mist, or other inclement weather.

Violators can be pulled over and fined $25.

* * *