By Marcus Fernandez
According to the most recent census data, 21% of Florida’s population is 65 or older, a statistic surpassed by only one other state. For many seniors, driving gives them the mobility needed to remain active and independent. Elderly driving rights are important to Florida’s residents.
If you think that seniors are not safe drivers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disagrees with you. It found that senior drivers exhibit safer driving behaviors than younger motorists, but the CDC also noted that older drivers have a greater risk of sustaining injuries or being killed in collisions.
Florida has taken steps to make the roads safer without infringing on the rights of elderly drivers. Driver improvement programs and changes to the driver’s license renewal rules for older motorists help. This article takes a closer look at senior drivers and what the state is doing to protect their right to drive. While also keeping the state’s roadways safe.
Driving skills and the aging process
You can deny it as much as you want, but you’re getting older, and the aging process brings with it physical and mental changes. Some of those changes affect your driving abilities whether you want to acknowledge them or not.
It’s not only the aging process itself that affects the ability of a person to safely operate a motor vehicle. Medications prescribed by your doctor or purchased without a prescription may have side effects that affect your ability to drive. For example, the medication that you take for allergies probably contains an antihistamine that causes drowsiness.
Some of the most common effects of the aging process that may impair elderly driving include:
- Eyesight. Your ability to see changes as you get older. It becomes harder to read traffic signs. Or you have trouble seeing when driving at night. Annual eye examinations to detect and correct vision changes become essential for drivers as they get older.
- Hearing. Hearing deteriorates with age and could prevent you from hearing sirens and car horns. Have your hearing checked by a doctor if you experience difficulty hearing.
- Reflexes and reaction times. Slower reflexes and an inability to react to situations, such as a car abruptly stopping in front of you, are a natural part of the aging process. Driving at the speed limit and leaving sufficient space can help with reaction time.
Have an honest conversation about your physical and mental health with your doctor. Talk about the medications that you take and any medical issues that may affect your ability to drive.
Florida laws affecting senior drivers
Florida has made changes to laws to make the roads safer for elderly driving, including the following:
- Changes to driver’s license renewal rules for seniors. A driver’s license in Florida must be renewed every eight years, but a different renewal period applies to drivers once they reach age 80. Older drivers, ages 80 and older, must renew their license every six years and pass a vision test.
- Vehicle modifications. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles may require equipment modifications to accommodate the needs of older drivers, including the use of hand controls or seat cushions. It also may prohibit a person from driving at night or driving a car with a manual transmission.
- Florida CarFit events. The CarFit program holds events throughout the year where older drivers can meet with technicians who inspect their vehicle and recommend modifications to make them safer.
- Registration of emergency contact information. The state implemented a program allowing seniors to register the emergency contact information for up to two people. Police can access the contact information to use in case of an accident.
- Insurance discount course for seniors. Drivers ages 55 and older may take a course approved by FLHSMV and receive a discount on their auto insurance upon successful completion.
- Disabled parking permits. The FLHSMV offers forms and detailed instructions for disabled senior motorists to obtain permits to use handicap parking spaces.
- ID cards available. Older drivers who no longer feel they can safely operate a motor vehicle may surrender their driver’s license and receive a Florida identification card that can be used in place of a license at airports, banks, and other places that require photo ID.
Reporting Someone for a Driving Ability Evaluation
Caregivers, family members, doctors, and others with knowledge that a licensed driver may no longer have the ability to safely drive may report it to the FLHSMV. The department will conduct an investigation and has the authority to suspend or revoke a person’s driving privileges. The identity of the person making the initial notification to the FLHSMV will not be disclosed. The law prevents legal action from being taken against them.
Creating a mobility plan
A mistake made by many seniors when planning for retirement is to focus only on the financial aspects of living independently as they age. What they fail to give equal consideration to is having a mobility plan. A mobility plan is important should the day come when they can no longer drive.
Unless you live in one of the many adult communities in Florida that offer residents bus and other transportation services, not being able to drive cuts you off from access to many of the activities and services that you rely upon, including:
- Medical appointments
- Religious services
- Social gatherings and events
The CDC website has a planning tool that guides you through the process of creating a plan in the event you can no longer drive. The planning tool has three components:
- Myself: How to stay independent. This section offers helpful suggestions for staying mobile through improving and maintaining your health.
- MyHome: How to stay safe at home. This section gives you a checklist to follow as you go through your home to eliminate hazards that could cause you to fall.
- MyNeighborhood: How to stay mobile in your community. This section walks you through the process of creating a plan for maintaining mobility and getting around in case you become incapacitated because of a fall or other type of accident or no longer have a driver’s license.
The loss of a license to drive does not mean the loss of mobility provided seniors and caregivers take the time to do advance planning. If you believe your elderly driving rights have been threatened, contact the team at KFB Law for a free consultation.