Mark is looking for a load. Bud has a sweet one to California that won’t be ready for a few days. In the meantime, Bud asks Mark to help an older driver, Charlie Knowles, get his licence renewed. Charlie’s a real character and Mark agrees to help out.
Mark had agreed to help prepare Charlie Knowles for all the tests he needed to complete in order to get his commercial driver’s licence renewed, but what that meant, Mark didn’t have a clue. Other than a physical every few years, Mark hadn’t been tested on his driving ability since he’d first received his licence and that had been some 15 years ago. How could he prepare someone for something he didn’t know anything about?
So he logged onto the Internet and checked out the Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s Web site, but was unable to find anything about driver licence renewals for commercial drivers 65 and over. Although Mark wasn’t a computer genius, he’d used the Internet before and could usually find what he was looking for, so his results were puzzling. There was a section for drivers renewing their licences over 80, and all kinds of help with renewing expired licences and booking appointments for new tests, but nothing about what Mark wanted to know. Mark wondered if he’d missed something on the site, but to the best of his abilities he couldn’t find anything about the MTO’s licensing policy regarding older commercial drivers.
Mark had hoped that the Web site would help him understand the reasoning behind the policy, but the fact that he couldn’t find anything -even using the site’s own search engine -made him think that perhaps the program was too new, or the ministry wasn’t very proud of it, or it was just another tax-grab kind of program like Drive Clean. There had to be some real reasons drivers were required to jump through all sorts of hoops just because their most recent birthday was their 65th? Mark wanted to know what they were, so he decided to call them up and ask.
It took a while before he got connected to a human being who could answer his questions, but when the right woman finally came on the line she was both pleasant and professional.
“How can I help you?”
Mark decided to start slowly. “Yeah, my dad is a truck driver and he’s 64 right now, but his birthday’s coming up in a month, and he’s scared to death of losing his licence. That isn’t going to happen is it?”
“Not if he renews his licence.” “This year?”
“And every year after 65.”
“That doesn’t seem fair. He hasn’t had a problem in years…in fact he’s never had an accident in his life.”
“That’s admirable sir, but research has shown that older drivers are more likely to develop medical conditions that affect their ability to drive. After 65, drivers are one-and-a-half times more likely to have an accident than drivers between 45 and 64.”
She knew her stuff, that was for sure. And Mark could concede the fact that as drivers got older they had more health issues. So an eye test and a physical were probably a good idea, but that didn’t explain the rest of it. “So why do they have to be road-tested too?”
She paused, as if thinking. “The licence renewal process has been developed with the help and consultation of the people in the industry to enhance truck safety. That includes re-assessment of a person’s driving ability.”
Mark sighed, knowing he probably wasn’t going to get anywhere with this woman. “You know, a lot of drivers have to rent trucks and trailers to take their tests, costing them money and a day off work just to keep their licence.”
“And if a driver has been on the road 40 years without a problem, why should he have to prove he can still drive? That seems like age discrimination to me.”
“The ministry regularly reviews the renewal requirements. If you have concerns -as you obviously do -then I suggest writing to the Ontario Transport Minister, or your member of provincial parliament.”
“Write a letter?” “Yes, sir.”
Mark hung up the phone. ‘So be it,’ thought Mark. If there’s a test, then it was his job to make sure Charlie passed it.
Mark met Charlie in the parking lot of a truck yard out by the airport. Charlie was sitting in his pick-up at the far end of the yard and when Mark pulled in, he wasted no time getting out of his truck and hopping into Mother Load. He scaled the cab so easily and slipped in the open passenger side door so effortlessly, Mark would have never have guessed the man was a senior citizen.
“You Mark Dalton?” Charlie asked in his thick Scottish accent.
“You don’t remember me?”
Charlie looked at him strangely. “Should I?”
Mark smiled and related the story of the early days of his truck driving career when he’d been recently divorced and he’d let his personal appearance get out of hand. He’d looked like a bum, but Charlie had called him a loser. “Do you remember that?”
Charlie’s eyes narrowed as he looked Mark over. “Aye, I remember. You were a loser then. You still could be. I don’t know that much about you.”
Mark had considered thanking the man for shaking him up enough to get his life back on track, but it didn’t seem the right time for it now.
“How much you gonna charge me?”
“What?” Mark said. He hadn’t thought to charge anything. As far as he knew he was doing Bud a favour. “Did Bud tell you you’d have to pay?”
“He didn’t, but I’ve called around to the schools and some of them charge $3,000… and that’s just for a refresher course.”
“That’s a lot of money.”
“You bet it’s a lot of money, especially when I’ve been driving truck twice as long as the snot-nosed boy who’ll be teaching me has been on the planet.”
Mark was aware of the insult, but he couldn’t help but smile. Charlie was such a character. Who else could insult someone who was doing something nice for them? “Bud asked me to do this. I wasn’t going to charge you anything.”
What passed for a smile appeared on Charlie’s face. “Then the price is right,” he said, continuing to stare at Mark through narrowed eyes. “And what about using your truck for the test? You’ll be charging me for that, I suppose?”
Again, Mark hadn’t thought about what truck Charlie would use. Obviously the man had no truck of his own and would have to rent one to do the test. Renting a truck was a costly endeavour, especially when it would be for just a few hours. “I guess I could let you use my truck.”
Mark didn’t like the word free. He was doing a favour for Bud and that implied that Bud would return the favour some day. But as far as Charlie was concerned, the use of truck would indeed be free. “Yes,” he said at last. “Free.”
Charlie nodded. “Good. But you better get a trailer. I can’t exactly drop a trailer on the day of the test if there isn’t one attached to the truck now, can I?”
Speaking of tests, Mark had been interacting with Charlie for all of five minutes and he felt like he was the one who was being tested -most of all his patience. “I’ll make sure,” he sighed at last.
“Right then! Let’s get started.”
–Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 3 of Licence Renewed.