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More than vision tests needed for elderly drivers

When people get older, their mind, sight – and now their driver’s license – might fade. A revision to an existing bill would require all drivers 65 and older to pass a vision test to obtain or renew a license is being supported by local lawmakers Rep. Kevin Ambler and Sen. Victor Crist.

The current law requires drivers 80 and older to get vision tests. According to an article in Tuesday’s Tampa Tribune, the revised law would require drivers between the ages 70 and 80 to renew their licenses every three years, drivers between 80 and 90 to renew every two years, and drivers over the age of 90 to get their licenses renewed every year.

It seems logical to test older drivers’ eyesight, since according to research done by Loyola University in 2001, “Of the 200 million registered drivers in the United States, approximately 10 million are over age 75. This age group has more accidents per mile than any other group except teenagers.”

While that is an alarming statistic, it probably isn’t just eyesight that should be tested; in-person license renewal should be required as well. U.S. News and World Report said a study done by the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that in states that require in-person renewal, the amount of fatal crashes decreased by 17 percent among those 85 and older but that “none of the other specific policies – for example, vision tests – correlated with the death rates of elderly drivers.” The magazine also said, “In-person renewal laws are thought to limit accidents because license inspectors can refuse licenses to impaired drivers or insist on a medical evaluation before granting a license.”

The article in Tuesday’s Tampa Tribune gave a chilling example of elderly driving gone wrong. “In October,” the article stated, “a 93-year-old man thought to be suffering from dementia struck a pedestrian in St. Petersburg and did not notice the corpse hanging out his windshield until a toll booth operator stopped him.” The scary thing is that the man, Ralph Parker, had his vision tested in 2003 – but it didn’t help him notice a corpse in his window.

The numbers prove that Florida should make people come to Department of Motor Vehicles to renew their licenses. It is clear that vision tests alone are not the answer, since it is proven by tests and reality that they do not change the statistics. But if vision tests are coupled with in person renewals, Florida may actually be able to reduce the number of older drivers involved in fatal crashes.