Incident at the driver’s license office

The in basket: Sharon O’Hara, a frequent commenter on Road Warrior columns on my blog at, has an issue of her own with the state Department of Licensing.

She was made to waste an hour waiting to renew her license only to learn she had to return for a driving test because she needs “walking sticks” to walk, she said.

“Yesterday I dropped by to renew my license,” she said, “used my two walking sticks to the first counter, waited in line until the person behind the desk asked what I wanted and received a number after I told her.

“She did not mention the walking sticks and I walked back to sit in the hard, uncomfortable chairs for almost an hour before my number was called.

She gave the next person her license. “She asked me if I had trouble driving and I said ‘No, not once I got into the car.’  I can’t walk without the sticks.

The employee excused herself to talk with someone in a side room, Sharon said, “and came back to tell me that people who use canes had to take the driver’s test.

“Surprised, I said, ‘Okay, let’s go.'”

But the tests are given only on Friday, Sharon was told, so she made a 1 p.m. appointment on a Friday. “She told me to park around back in one of the spaces provided and to wait in the car, I didn’t need to get out.
“I asked why the information wasn’t known or shown online? She looked online and couldn’t find (it).
“I told her of the wasted energy – gas – to drive there, not to speak of the almost hour wasted waiting there for something that couldn’t happen because I used ‘canes’ to walk.  That is discrimination in my book.
“My issue is not with the test.  It is that I should have known about that law/rule and been able to phone in for the appointment rather than waste the time and energy to drive there for nothing.
She was told in a phone call to DOL when she got back home that “they couldn’t take calls – that anyone could say anything over the phone – they couldn’t know the truth unless they saw the person.

“That makes no logical sense. Why would anyone claim to use canes to take a drivers test when they didn’t need to?  Nobody would do that.
“The lack of warning that cane users must take the driver test makes me feel we – walking stick and/or seniors might be discriminated against.”

The out basket: I asked Brad Benfield of the DOL if Sharon’s visit to the office had been handled correctly.

“Our staff are trained to watch individuals when they approach the service counters,” Brad said, “and listen to them during a transaction for signs that might indicate they have a physical or cognitive condition that might affect their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.

“When the staff encounter an individual they believe may have a condition that would affect their ability to drive, they have options for handling it: they can require the individual to pass a driving test, they can require the individual to be cleared to drive by a medical professional, or they can further discuss and clarify the situation with the individual and issue the license.

“If an individual is required to take the driving test, it is because our staff had a reason to believe the person’s ability to safely operate a vehicle was in question.

“Because our staff are screening for a wide variety of physical and cognitive conditions and there are several possible outcomes, it simply wouldn’t be possible to detail all of the possible scenarios on our website or in a brochure.

“There is a very wide spectrum of reasons someone might use a walking aid. Some might affect a person’s ability to drive, and others might not. Without actually seeing and talking with someone, it would be impossible to make a determination about who should be tested and who should not.

“The use of a walking aid would certainly be a factor in screening someone for a driving test, but there are usually other factors that go along with the use of the aid when a determination is made. It would not be accurate to say ‘everyone who uses a cane has to retake a driving test.'”

Still, he said, “I certainly don’t have firsthand knowledge of (Sharon’s) situation, but it appears the staff handled it appropriately. We do not want to discriminate against anyone. We also do not want to inconvenience anyone by making them take a driving test when it is clear a condition will not affect their ability to drive.”

10 thoughts on “Incident at the driver’s license office

  1. Wow, only an hour wait! I don’t if anyone here has been to Bremerton’s license office. I don’t think that I have ever been out of there in under 3 hours. I once got there when the office oppened and was number 44. yes, there was a long line in the morning. They got to number 24 during the first hour. Now I don’t know about where most people work, I really don’t think that the DMV is such a demanding job that they have to take breaks every hour. Most of the time there was just one person working the counter too!

  2. ” “The use of a walking aid would certainly be a factor in screening someone for a driving test, but there are usually other factors that go along with the use of the aid when a determination is made. It would not be accurate to say ‘everyone who uses a cane has to retake a driving test.’””

    According to your front line person it is mandatory that ALL cane users must take the driver’s test. Why would she lie about it?

    Why is the mandatory driving test cane factor not mentioned on your website – or mentioned?

  3. I also have COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and breathe heavily when I exert. It took me a minute or two to get my breathing back to normal at the counter. That said I am one who does not desaturate so my blood/oxygen does not drop to the danger level – which would impede my ability to drive safely.

    Once I’m seated, I wait a few moments until my breathing is back to normal before starting the car and driving. I do not qualify for oxygen.
    I do sleep with a bipap at night with a concentrator bleed in. That has nothing to do with my ability to drive.

  4. I agree the first person should have told this lady that she would have to take a driving test due to the walking sticks. That way she could have made her appointment for Friday instead of sitting there for an hour. By the way the rules sound like a ball of yarn to me. I think such information could be posted on the DMV web, if anything could ever be clarified.

  5. If making her wait and THEN telling her she would have to take the test is what they consider handling it “appropriately” then they have a severely skewed idea of appropriate.

  6. to Paradyne64:
    Do you KNOW that she failed her test? And even if she did, that’s not the story here. The story is that the first person didn’t mention it AT ALL and made her sit for an hour just to make an appointment. If the first person had just said something, she could have made the appointment and been done.

    Just one more instance showing that they don’t really give a rat’s behind about customer service or the value of our time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one worker at that place smile about anything.

  7. Umm… parady…and why did Sharon fail the driving test?

    Could the first hint have been at the very beginning when I was told to turn left out of the driving office parking lot and the driving instructor said, “Stop!” ?

    It seemed strange that I had to explain to her that I couldn’t see oncoming traffic when I slowly inched out trying to see around the huge For Lease sign blocking the view. It seemed strange at the time – and now – that such a sign was allowed to block the view right in front of the office.

    Many if not most seniors, especially those with medical conditions are afraid to complain for fear of retaliation. I know of instances where they allowed themselves to be stuck like a pincushion by incompetent persons because the one person in that office that knew how to properly give shots was on vacation or unexpectedly out of the office.

    Every single one of you will one day be a senior, perhaps medically challenged…and vulnerable.

    Hope that you will be evaluated on the basis of your driving skills not singled out because the DOT is prejudiced against seniors using walking sticks. It seems to me that seniors using canes are already picked to visit the office twice and non cane using seniors are not required to make that extra trip. That is prejudice…in my opinion.

    paradynes64… are you affiliated with law enforcement in any way?
    Sharon O’Hara

  8. I’m a supporter of state and local government. But I had the displeasure of patronizing the Bremerton Drivers License office. I’ve always been told to praise in public and chastise in private. Let’s just say that after my two hour wait and being told I’d need to come back I called the director of the States Licensing department and shared my experience.

    I would think that someone who has a good government job with benefits would be happy. Hard to tell considering the attitude displayed by staff. If I were in charge, I’d have fired everyone there, including the manager. All except for one lady who seemed pleasant and eager to help.

    I’m not sure if this is a Union thing? We are a former Union family. Union used to mean quality. If all it means now is employees who don’t care because they think they can’t be fired then that Union should do everyone a favor and disolve. I think we need good Unions, but Unions should not only protect it’s members, but also ensure their quality.

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