A man was sitting on a lawn chair reading a book when he was startled by a car crashing through a hedge, coming to rest on his lawn. He helped the elderly man out of the car and to a chair. “My goodness,” he exclaimed, “you’re quite old to be driving!” “Yes,” the driver replied, “I am old enough that I don’t need a license. The last time I went to the doctor for my regular check-up, he asked if I had a driver’s license. I told him yes and handed it to him. He took a scissors from a drawer, cut the license into pieces and threw them in the wastebasket. ‘You don’t need this anymore,’ he said. “I thanked him and left.”

As the baby boomers age, officials are bracing for a surge in older drivers in the next decade. Statistics show that accidents increase after the age of 65, and fatal accidents are more likely after the age of 75.

Requiring older drivers to be tested periodically is controversial. Thirty states and Washington, D.C., have some criteria for renewing the licenses of older drivers, ranging from simple vision testing to requiring seniors to renew their licenses more frequently than younger people. At what age should this begin? There is no consistency. For example, Massachusetts begins retesting eyesight at age 75. In California, drivers over age 70 are required to visit a Department of Motor Vehicles office every five years for both written and vision tests. Georgia renews licenses for shorter periods starting at age 59, Texans must renew in person at age 80.

Pennsylvania does not routinely test older drivers. But there are several ways the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) determines if a driver – any driver, regardless of age – should be tested. First, by law, all physicians and certain other healthcare providers must report to PennDOT any person age 15 or older diagnosed as having a condition that could impair their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Second, PennDOT accepts letters from concerned family members and others, and the drivers identified in these letters may be asked to submit medical information. Third, every month, 1,900 drivers over the age of 45 are chosen at random for retesting seven months before their license renewal dates, and are required to undergo vision and physical exams by healthcare providers of their own choice. In the rare event the results of those exams suggest a potential problem, the driver will also be required to take a driver’s examination. Fourth, PennDOT uses police and accident reports on drivers of all ages to determine who should be evaluated; PennDOT may request medical or driver’s exams for those drivers.

Most people want to continue driving as long as they can do so safely. However, for many of us, the time comes when we must limit or stop driving, either temporarily or permanently. For older adults, limiting their driving presents practical problems and can cause strong emotions, from sadness to anger. Family members themselves may feel angry, frustrated, or guilty about depriving their loved one of the freedom of driving. A booklet, “We Need to Talk…Family Conversations with Older Drivers”, offers suggestions on how to deal with this concern. It’s found at www.thehartford.com/sites/thehartford/files/we-need-to-talk-2012.pdf.

Mark Berg is a former AARP driver safety instructor. His e-mail address is maberg175@comcast.net.

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