Silver drivers in the spotlight again

Paula Wolfson,

WASHINGTON — When to take the keys away from elderly drivers is an age-old argument and a recent crash involving a 100-year-old driver shines a spotlight on the issue once again.

Last week, the centenarian driver plowed into a group of people at a Los Angeles elementary school, injuring nine children and two adults. Four of the children were seriously injured. The driver told police the brakes on his 1990 Cadillac failed.

The number of older drivers is increasing as the baby boomer generation ages. Older drivers keep their licenses longer, drive more miles, and make up a bigger portion of the nation’s population than in past years, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Nationwide, the number of drivers ages 70 and older totaled 22 million in 2008, based on data from the Federal Highway Administration. In comparison, fewer than 18 million people ages 70 and older had a license in 1997, the institute says.

More than half of states have specific renewal requirements for older drivers. The stipulations include shorter renewal cycles, required vision or road testing, and in-person instead of mail or electronic renewal, the institute says.

In D.C. and Maryland, drivers over the age of 70 must renew their licenses in person and they must take a vision test. In Virginia, similar rules apply to drivers over the age of 80.

All three local jurisdictions say they follow up with a doctor if they suspect an older driver is physically impaired. However, all fall short of the law in Pennsylvania, where doctors are required to report such conditions to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Pennsylvania also provides families with a booklet to help them decide when and how to get involved in an older person’s decision whether to continue driving.

D.C. DMV recommends that senior drivers test or refresh their road skills with an online defensive driving course.

Virginia offers a list of questions drivers can ask themselves to check if they are still safe to drive on its Mature Driver page.

Questions include:

  • Getting lost in familiar areas?
  • Confusing the gas and the brake pedals?
  • Stopping for green lights or when there is no indication that you need to stop?

Tips for a safe trip include:

  • Plan trips during low traffic times.
  • Take a driver improvement class to maintain driving skills and learn the newest highway laws and vehicle changes.
  • Know how medication side effects could impair driving skills
  • Wear flat shoes or sneakers when driving

Maryland breaks down what to consider when deciding whether a driver should get behind the wheel based on health conditions like Glaucoma and stroke.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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