Elderly drivers should take more than vision test, expert says

By on November 16th, 2012

About three months ago, a 100-year-old man backed his car into 11 people, including nine school children, in Los Angeles.

It is unknown whether age was a factor in the Los Angeles accident, but age can contribute to drivers’ inability to control a vehicle, leading to injury and death.

According to a study done by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, on a per mile basis, the death rate of drivers 85 and older is nearly triple that of drivers age 16 to 17, and it is nearly 20 times that of drivers age 50 to 59.

The Florida Department of Motor Vehicles has restrictions for drivers older than 80, said Kirsten Olsen-Doolan, the deputy communications director. Some restrictions include requiring mandatory visions tests to renew a license as well as only giving six-year licenses.

But aging drivers should be tested on more than just vision, Dr. Marco Pahor, director of the University of Florida’s Institute on Aging, said.

“There are certain issues that can impair ability to drive, which could be vision impairments, hearing impairments, cognitive impairments, as well as physical,” Pahor said. “So all four factors can really impact the ability and performance and safety of driving.”

Testing drivers’ vision does not help if drivers have hearing loss or compromised cognitive ability, Pahor said, which is why other countries have stricter restrictions for aging drivers.

“In countries like Italy, older people at age 80 need to pass a license exam every year to have their license confirmed,” he said. “They need to pass all this cognitive function, visual and hearing, as well as cardiovascular fitness.”

In addition to the deterioration of the senses, Pahor explained there are other factors that may contribute to declining driving skills in older drivers — such as some medications.

Although all drivers, young and old, could potentially take medication that impair their abilities to drive, older drivers often use more medication, making them more likely to be affected, Pahor said.

Older drivers should be required to take tests that measure not only vision but also hearing, cognitive and physical abilities, he said. Making sure a car is adapted for physical impairments is also important.

To help older drivers, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has the GrandDriver Program, which promotes driving safety and enhances older drivers’ abilities to get around their communities, Olsen-Doolan said.

In addition to the GrandDriver program, AARP and AAA also have senior driving programs.

Hana Engroff wrote this story online.

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  • Nenameche

    I agree with Dr. Pahor, elderly people should be tested more aside from the vision. They should be tested annually starting at least from 65-70. I am saying this because my best friend was recently run over by an elderly person. He didn’t see her because he said he couldn’t see well and it was dark (although the place is packed with pedestrians), and right now she is brain dead. She is only 24. She is/was a beautiful young lady with an incredible personality and a bright future ahead, and now there is nothing. This is not the first story I hear, and I hope that measures can be taken soon for the safety of both the pedestrians and the drivers.


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