Seniors and Driving
As individuals age, often the most important sign of independence is the ability to drive. There are increasing conflicts between public safely concerns and the rights of older Americans to retain their privilege to drive.
There are over 20 million drivers age 70 and older, with that number expected to increase to 30 million by 2030. Unfortunately, drivers age 85 years and older now exceed 16-year-old drivers in the number of fatalities per mile driven, and they almost match teenage drivers in rates of insurance claims for property damage. With no national standards for driver licensing, states have been developing their own policies with respect to the licensing of senior drivers. Seniors who have lost their licenses are hiring lawyers, getting therapy to prepare for road tests, and being coached to pass written tests. Some older drivers are using false licenses in order to stay on the road, according to Harold Kocken, senior director of driver licensing for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
Some incidents have prompted legislatures to enact tougher laws with respect to older drivers. In St. Petersburg, Florida, a 93-year-old man drove up to a toll booth, apparently oblivious to the fact that the dead body of a pedestrian that he had hit down the road was embedded in his windshield. As a result of this incident, two Florida lawmakers proposed legislation that would require physicians to report to the state licensing authorities those people age 75 years and older who may be unfit to drive. Advocacy groups for seniors (including AARP in Florida) were successful in removing the age requirement in the proposed bill, and the bill did not pass. Currently Florida is one of many states that have a confidential voluntary, but not mandatory, reporting program for physicians with knowledge of those may be unable to drive due to physical or mental disabilities. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has now instituted the Florida GrandDriver® program (www.floridagranddriver.com) to promote senior driver safety, and to enhance the ability of seniors to get around when and where they want. Many advocacy groups oppose testing requirements based on age, and questions exist regarding the best way to identify dangerous drivers. Virginia currently requires drivers age 80 and older to submit to a vision test.