AAA Survey: Seniors Say They Should Take Driving Tests

December 2, 2014 | Health Care, Politics, Transportation
A recent survey found 80 percent of seniors favor requiring medical screenings and a driving test for license renewal.

By Brenda Flanagan

Most drivers follow the speed limit, but should they also obey an age limit? Say, at 75 — take a driving test and eye exam, to get their license renewed.

“I think it’s different with everybody because some people who are older have better reflexes than other people,” said Mary Glukowsky.

“Rather than making everybody do it, if you have a record that indicates you’re having difficulty driving, then definitely, you should be retested,” said Marion Billy.

“Seniors, themselves, would like to be retested as they age for driving skills,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic Spokeswoman Tracy Noble.

Noble says a recent survey shows a big majority — 80 percent — of seniors over age 75 do favor requiring medical screenings and a driving test.

“We’re talking about a skills test — driving, maneuvering, being comfortable out on the road,” she said.

Noble says AAA’s trying focus attention on the issue, because another study shows 86 percent of people over 65 still drive — and that 68 percent of drivers 85 and older report driving five or more days a week. Many people when they think of older drivers envision scenes like one where 101-year-old Preston Carter backed his blue Cadillac up onto a sidewalk in South LA — hitting nine kids and two adults.

“I lost control — the brakes. I lose control,” he said.

“I don’t think he did that deliberately. He wouldn’t want to hurt nobody,” his daughter Ella Fleming said.

Here’s the reality: 90 percent of drivers over age 65 reported no crashes over the past two years. New Jersey State Police report that last year, out of some 300 drivers killed in car crashes, only about a quarter were 65 or older. They’re careful. Most say they never use a cell phone to call or text behind the wheel. But there’s no denying their bodies can’t always keep up — especially, their vision.

“It’s as if an 80-year-old is wearing sunglasses — compared to a 20-year-old,” said Dr. Barry Tannen.

Optometrist Tannen says physical changes impair drivers’ ability, and driving in the dark or the rain makes it worse.

“The signs they used to be able to see, they have to get a lot closer to. That should be your first warning sign that things aren’t quite right,” Tannen said.

A special AAA Road Wise Review also helps seniors recognize any driving weakness, like head/neck flexibility.

“This helps you with blind spots every time you back up,” said the Road Side Review video.

But New Jersey’s not among the 33 states that have driver retesting laws.

“We believe senior drivers should be treated the same as all drivers. Vision issues are a concern for everybody. I mean, I’m wearing glasses,” AARP-NJ Communications Director Jeff Abramo said.

Politically, it’s a tough issue to navigate and the route’s only going to get rougher as baby boomers retire and join that turbo-charged voting bloc of seniors, who do go to the polls on Election Day — even if they have to take a bus.