Editorial: Toughen licensing requirements for elderly drivers

Friday, August 23, 2013
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New York state is a leader in many areas, but a laggard when it comes to special licensing requirements for elderly drivers. Unfortunately, these are necessary as more and more New Yorkers are outliving their ability to drive safely. It can’t be left to individuals or their families to decide when that time has come. Government, as the issuer of licenses, has an obligation to make sure elderly drivers are still physically capable.

This is a controversial and emotional topic. Driving represents freedom, mobility and convenience, and most people are reluctant to give it up. But it’s a fact that with increasing age comes a diminishing of three important functions for driving: vision, cognition and motor function. That puts the elderly at significantly higher risk than middle-aged adults, especially for crashes at intersections involving left turns.

It’s true, as many elderly people argue, that young drivers are also involved in a disproportionate number of accidents. But this is usually due to inexperience and immaturity, not physical impairments. And New York state has at least tried to address the issue with graduated licensing requirements that make teen drivers take a driver’s ed or pre-licensing course, wait longer and get more practice driving before getting full privileges.

Not so with elderly drivers. While 33 states have some special provisions for them — such as more frequent renewals, no mail renewals, more frequent vision tests, a medical report, and even, in Illinois and New Hampshire, road tests for those over 75 — New York has none. Elderly drivers, like everyone else, need only renew every eight years (a longer cycle than most states) and pass a basic vision test administered by the Department of Motor Vehicles or, if renewing online or by mail, a vision care professional.

Ideally, there would be more frequent renewals and more extensive vision and skills testing — on a simulator if not the road. (There would also be more communities that were walkable and had public or other forms of transportation, so the elderly could easily get around without a car.) But it’s time for the state to at least acknowledge this problem, which with an aging population is only going to get worse, and do something about it.

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August 23, 2013
8 a.m.
cidbil says...

And just who decides what "elderly" is?....Is it 65, 75, 85, 95?..........

August 23, 2013
3:19 p.m.
ronzo says...

I would gladly take a road test at every driver license renewal. Or at least present myself to the motor vehicle agency so they could get a look at me and my physical and cognitive ability. That would hopefully give the state some assurance of my ability and give me the peace of mind that they believe I probably won't hurt someone.

August 24, 2013
6:39 p.m.
robbump says...

I agree that there should be more periodic testing of all drivers, not to mention a much harder exam for the initial license.
Lack of adequate public transportation is a major reason many refuse to give up driving. Planning for the day of non-driving should be in peoples' minds when they buy a house. These "senior communities" should not be allowed to be built in areas where there is no bus routes.
The clock is ticking for all of us, so even if we today say, "Take away their licenses", tomorrow it will be us whose licenses are being called for. Today is the day to start planning how we're going to find alternate transportation -- and start using it today, even if only once a week.

August 25, 2013
12:02 a.m.
jjhehir says...

What exactly are the statistics on driver accidents and age? First, we have to know what is going on before we make any decisions on DWA (Driving While Aged). How many aged drivers cause accidents compared to drivers at other ages? Do aged drivers compensate for their age by driving slower; do they leave plenty of room between them and the driver ahead; do they drink alcohol to excess less frequently than others when driving; do they tend to avoid driving at night or when weather conditions are poor? In general, do aged drivers take more or fewer chances when driving? What we do know is, they get hurt more in accidents than younger people, but it's their decision to take that risk.

August 30, 2013
4:31 p.m.
413holmes says...

I am an elderly driver 77 years old,I cannot walk long distences because of knee pain,I would like to remind drivers regaurdless of age that elderly drivers DO NOT cut in front of other drivers to get to an exit We also don't speed up in a traffic circle to try and beat out other drivers.We don't blow our horns and use obscene jestures either. I was raised to respect others. Not all of us were raised that way most drivers think they have the right of way no matter who else is on the road

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