- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - It was May 22 when a 7-year-old girl wearing a sparkly pink backpack was struck and killed by a 77-year-old driver at a crosswalk in Riverton.

The driver, Sandra Pennock, was charged with vehicular homicide. She told police she never saw the girl, Sophia Archer.

A little more than a month later, Sophia’s father Tim Archer is doing what he can to make sure others don’t have to experience what his family is going through.

He’s raised money to improve the crosswalks in the community. He’s generated driver safety awareness. And now, he’s pushing to change the current driver’s license requirements in Wyoming.

“Maybe we tighten up the renewal process in driver’s licenses,” Archer, 50, said. “Just make sure the standards are where they need to be so that people who are out on the roads are capable of being out there.”

In the beginning of June, legislators declined to draft a bill changing the law after learning that driver’s license requirements for older Wyomingites are no different than for younger residents.

Their decision was made partly based on arguments from the American Association of Retired Persons. The group notes that crashes involving older drivers have decreased, and that cognitive and physical impairments aren’t always tied to the aging process.

But stricter rules surrounding older drivers is not what Archer is looking for.

“I don’t want to single out elderly folks. I’m 50 years old. I’ve worn glasses for the past seven years. Every year when I go to my eye doctor, my prescription has changed,” Archer said. “So maybe it shouldn’t be limited to a certain age. Maybe it’s something we need to look at closer for all drivers. Like I said, I’m not set in saying ‘From this age going forward, we need to be stricter.’ I think we need to be stricter altogether.”

Wyoming drivers must renew their licenses every four years. During an eight-year period, a driver can only renew once by mail, requiring a renewal at a Wyoming Drivers Services office the other time. There are vision requirements that must be met during this process.

But in Archer’s view, the minimum qualifications for obtaining a driver’s license are too lenient. The requirements listed on the Wyoming Department of Transportation site, specifically the second requirement, are a cause of concern for Archer:

“If you do not have vision in one eye, but have a (sic) vision in the other eye, you may be required to have your vision specialist test your field of vision to assure you meet this minimum standard. The vision specialist is required to complete a Vision Evaluation Form,” the site reads.

“May. Not required, but may,” Archer said. “I’m pretty sure if I’ve only got one eye, my peripheral vision is obviously impacted. But by the state’s standard, you only ‘may’ have to have your vision specialist test.”

John Cox, director of WYDOT, stated that as long as the vision requirements and minimum requisites are met, you can be issued a driver’s license. He also acknowledged that after instances like Sophia’s death, conversations are happening to prevent a similar incident.

“The death in Riverton is certainly one of those that catches our attention, and causes us to take a look. Are we doing everything that we possibly can to make sure that every driver who is licensed by Wyoming is completely qualified to do that under Wyoming law?” Cox said.

“Is there anything that could be done differently or better? That’s kind of a fluid thing, but we’re not shy about making suggestions to the legislature if we think a law needs to be changed.”

Tim Summers, the Wyoming AARP state director, agrees. It’s not an age issue. If any person behind a wheel is not fit to adequately operate a vehicle, changes need to be made.

“Bottom line is, I think we are all responsible for keeping up our skills, and monitoring not only our skills, but our loved one’s driving skills,” Summers said.

“Young or old, I don’t think this is only about age. Safety is paramount and we need to always keep a focus on safety.”

Archer knows this is going to be a process, and not an easy one. But he feels changes need to be made.

“I think it’s going to be a tough sell. There are a lot of older residents in Wyoming that may be against it,” Archer said. “But I think it’s a fight worth fighting.”


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, https://www.trib.com

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