Kalispell man the first to earn Montana low-speed license

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Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake Examiner Rachael Mitchell checks the turn signals of Jay Barrow's golf cart in the parking lot of the Drivers License Department on Monday afternoon during his driving test for a new slow-moving vehicle license. Monday, July 16, 2012 in Kalispell, Montana.

Jay Barrow, almost 58, on Monday became the first person in Montana to receive a low-speed restricted driver’s license under a new provision in state law.

“I’ve had a golf cart for years,” he said. “I’ve been driving it illegally for the past seven years.”

Because Barrow suffers from a brain injury and has a history of epilepsy, he cannot safely operate a regular vehicle. Until this year, he had to break the law to maintain some independence in daily living.

“I’ve never had an accident, and I only go 15 to 20 miles per hour,” he said.

A common sight driving his cart around the back roads of Kalispell, Barrow said he uses it mainly to go shopping or to church. He rides on Eagle Transit to get to his job as a cashier at Walmart, where he has worked for years.

“It’s a whole lot safer” than a vehicle for him, he said.

According to Barrow, one former police chief gave him tacit approval to use his cart on a limited basis. But from time to time, Barrow said he’s been pulled over and warned against driving his golf cart on public roads.

Effective Jan. 1, Montana law allows people like Barrow to apply and test for a license. The state Department of Motor Vehicles may issue a low-speed restricted driver’s license to a person who is physically or otherwise impaired in a manner and degree that prevent the person from safely operating a motor vehicle across the range of speeds permitted or required on a public highway.

According to Barrow, a disabled person in the Livingston area championed changes to the law to allow a low-speed, restricted driver’s license. He said he was surprised that person was not the first to receive the low-speed license.

To qualify, a person must obtain a medical evaluation or statement from a treating physician attesting to his or her impairment and inability to drive a regular vehicle. Applicants also must pass the regular driver’s written examination, a vision test and a road test modified to the limitations of the golf cart or low-speed electric vehicle.

Because of his brain injury, Barrow said he struggled to learn the rules of the road, so it took him three tries to pass the written exam. He credits his success to the practice he gets memorizing numerical codes for produce for his Walmart job, along with studying for a full month.

Persistence paid off for Barrow. He was first scheduled to take his road test on June 4, but he discovered that paperwork for his surety bond had not been received, so he was delayed until Monday.

Since his learner’s permit expired, Barrow thought he might have to retake the written test and pay all the fees again. However, his permit was extended and he was allowed to take the driving test Monday.

“I passed with flying colors,” he said after the test.

Instead of having the examiner in his Yamaha golf cart, Barrow said he followed her car, taking cues from her turn signals. He said he made a mistake on a left turn but it wasn’t enough to impact his test.

He laughed about one moment when the examiner turned on the emergency flashers and he bounced back and forth, trying first to turn left and then trying to turn right before he remembered that meant the end of his test.

Barrow agreed that finally having a driver’s license makes a nice present for his birthday on Friday when he turns 58. He joked that he cracked the lens of the camera when they took his driver’s license picture.

According to Barrow, few people know about this new law that accommodates those with physical impairments. He was proud to break new ground.

“I’m the first in the whole state of Montana to start and finish,” he said. “Now I know I’m street-legal, and I don’t have to worry about being pulled over.”

Reporter Candace Chase may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at cchase@dailyinterlake.com.

Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake Jay Barrow displays the back of his license that indicates it is a restricted low speed license. Monday, July 16, 2012 in Kalispell, Montana.

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