Florida has the most senior driver traffic fatalities in the country, according to a report released a few years ago by TRIP, a national transportation research group. The study showed that in a single year, 271 drivers over 65 were killed in auto accidents that year, and more than 500 traffic deaths of all ages involved at least one senior driver. Those totals are higher than any other state, including California, which has the most over-65 drivers in the nation (3.1 million, which is about half a million more than here in the Sunshine State).
We can only expect these figures have increased as not only has the number of overall auto accidents and fatalities spiked in recent years, but so too have the number of over-65 drivers. Back in the 1970s, roughly half of all American seniors had a driver’s license. Today, 84 percent of them do.
Recently, a study by Pew Charitable Trusts highlighted the fact that by 2030, more than 60 million senior drivers are going to be on our nation’s roadways. Many states – including Florida – have laws already on the books that seek to restrict the licenses of elderly drivers, either through required vision tests or more frequent renewals. However, in the last few years, researchers noted, there has been reticence in state legislatures to enact additional measures – despite the growing number of older drivers. In fact, some states have even been rolling back these restrictions.
For example, lawmakers in Vermont axed a bill that would have required over-65 motorists to pass vision and road tests if they wanted to renew their driver’s licenses. In Tennessee, lawmakers put a stop to a bill that would have mandated drivers over 75 take a vision test if they wanted to renew their licenses.
In Florida, drivers who are 80 or older at the time their current driver’s license expires are required to pass a vision test before they can have their license renewed. In some situations, the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles also has the authority to require a written knowledge test as well. A driver who fails the basic vision test will have to visit a vision specialist who will perform a full exam to determine whether one’s eyesight allows safe driving. The opthalmologist or optometrist may recommend corrective vision restrictions.
As far as why Florida has an especially high number of senior driver fatalities compared to California, some traffic safety analysts cite California’s allocation of funds and resources into updated highways. It also has a more stringent tiered licensing system for older drivers.
Overall, seniors may be safer as vehicle technology has improved safety and there are more programs available to help aging drivers face various challenges. Still, one cannot dispute there are challenges. Older drivers must grapple with declining vision, reduced reflexes and worsening hearing. All of these affect a person’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle and increase the risk of an Orlando auto accident.
Still, organizations like the AARP have heavily lobbied legislators in recent years not to enact further restrictions, arguing that such moves are discriminatory against older drivers, many of whom undoubtedly have safe driving records. The AARP instead supports a system whereby a medical board would be responsible for judging a person’s fitness to drive based on a myriad of factors – not solely age.
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Curb elderly drivers? Not so fast, Dec. 25, 2016, By Jenni Bergal, Stateline.org
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