DMV tells 83-year-old with no accidents that he's no longer allowed on roads

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Steve Huffman
Herb Johnston has been driving for 67 years without so much as a ticket.
No accidents, no napping at the wheel, no infractions of any kind.
So Johnston, 83, was surprised two weeks ago when he got a letter from the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles telling him his driver’s license had been revoked.
“I can go through a four-speed gear box like an 18-year-old,” Johnston said. “If I’d had a ticket or an accident, I could understand. But I haven’t.”
Johnston is an old car buff, the owner of everything from a 1923 Ford Model T to a 1962 Chevrolet Corvette. He spends a fair amount of time with friends at the Hot Rod Barn on U.S. 29 at its intersection with Webb Road.
There, they discuss the intricacies of collector automobiles and generally shoot the bull.
Wayne Bradshaw is a business partner with Johnston, as well as the owner of the Hot Rod Barn and adjacent Bebop’s Diner. Earlier this week, he reflected on the absurdity of what the DMV is asking of Johnston, including proof of his identification.
“He was out all day yesterday mowing his yard,” Bradshaw said. “Now he’s got to prove how old he is and that he’s an American.”
Bradshaw paused before continuing.
“He knows how to spin a tire, I tell you that,” he laughed, referring to the driving skills of his longtime friend.
Exactly what prompted the actions of the DMV, Johnston doesn’t know. He said he got his driver’s license renewed about a year-and-a-half ago and it’s valid until 2012. He had trouble with the vision test when his license was renewed, but he went to an eye doctor to verify that his eyes were good for driving.
The doctor, Johnston said, sent the results to the DMV. Later, he was asked to submit more information to the DMV and he again complied.
On June 8 of this year, a letter was mailed by the DMV to Johnston telling him he’d received “a favorable recommendation … pertaining to your driving status.”
Johnston called DMV officials in Raleigh to find out what that meant and was assured that any issues regarding his license were being resolved.
But on June 23, a letter was mailed telling him he needed to surrender his license.
“We’re required to wear seat belts and if you ride a motorcycle, you’re required to wear a helmet,” Johnston said. “Now they’re telling me, ‘You get old, you can’t drive.’ ”
Earlier this week, someone asked Johnston if he was willing to cross U.S. 29 from the Hot Rod Barn and see a representative of the DMV’s license bureau at the N.C. Highway Patrol station about getting the confusion straightened out.
Nope, Johnston replied.
“Why should I go through the hassle of going to the doctor again and taking a road test again when I’ve done nothing wrong?” he asked.
Johnston laughed that on the form letter he received from the DMV, he was instructed to go to the agency’s office in Raleigh if he wished to appeal. How, he asked, could he get to Raleigh if he has surrendered his license?
Marge Howell, a spokeswoman for the DMV, said Johnston might be making a bigger deal of this than necessary. She did a quick check of his dealings with the DMV and said all Johnston needed to do was visit the license bureau for a road test.
“Once he takes the road test, he’ll be good to go,” Howell said.
She said a driver’s license is a privilege, not something any of us are guaranteed. Howell said the last thing the DMV wants to do is rescind the licenses of motorists still fully capable of driving.
“The DMV hands out licenses based on ability, not age,” she said. “No matter how old you are, if you can drive, you can drive.”
Howell said she wasn’t referring to Johnston’s case, but said anyone has the right to question another’s ability to drive. A letter asking the DMV to check another’s driving ability must be signed. Investigations of a motorist’s infirmity are not sparked by anonymous e-mails, she said.
Howell said it’s not unusual for family, friends or neighbors to write the DMV asking that an individual’s ability to drive be checked.
“Those are ways they can be started,” Howell said of such investigations.
She said, however, that didn’t appear to be case with Johnston, and said she hoped he’d visit the license office and get the matter straightened out.
Meanwhile, at the Hot Rod Barn, Johnston and his cohorts weighed in on the matter earlier this week.
“He hasn’t had any tickets, no accident, why are they doing this?” asked Jim Bowers, another regular to the small museum where collector cars are housed.
Johnston chuckled and said just because he’d never gotten a ticket didn’t mean he’d never deserved one.
“The fact that I have a perfect 67-year driving record doesn’t mean I was a nerd who drove a four-door Dodge,” he said. “I had my wild side.”