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Senior Drivers in Alabama Face Unique Roadway Challenges

Sep 10, 2013 - Birmingham, Car Accidents by

A horrible tragedy unfolded recently when a traffic accident in Birmingham claimed the lives of an elderly couple on Highway 280.
Authorities say the senior driver, in a passenger vehicle, pulled in front of a semi-truck and was subsequently struck.

Although the crash is still under investigation, it’s an awful reminder of how quickly an ill-fated, snap-second judgment can change everything. It’s especially important for older drivers to offer up an honest analysis of their own driving abilities, particularly in terms of sight and reaction time.

Objectivity is not always so simple for someone who is living it, and many older folks are fiercely independent. Admitting they may need to relinquish their keys – even if they recognize they are having trouble – is a task that’s far from easy. It may be incumbent upon loved ones to kick-start this difficult but vitally important conversation.

As we head into the fall season on the verge of the holidays, many of us are planning trips that will bring us in contact with older relatives whom we may not see much throughout the year. It’s important to be alert for signs that your loved one’s driving ability may need to be re-evaluated. Beyond their own safety, you’re looking out for the safety of everyone else with whom they share the road.

Laws regarding senior licensing vary from state-to-state. Alabama’s laws are lax when it comes to senior safety. Here, all drivers are required to renew their driver’s license in person with a vision test every four years. Seniors would be subject to this, of course, but there are no special provisions for those who reach a certain age.

The vision tests require that one have a minimum acuity of 20/60 with or without corrective lenses. Bioptic lenses may not be used to meet the acuity standard. You may want to keep this standard in mind when talking about your loved one’s most recent regular vision test.

Other states take a stricter approach when it comes to older drivers. While none have a “cut-off” date in terms of age, some do require additional testing for those who reach a certain age.

In Colorado, for example, regular licenses are renewed every 10 years, until a person reaches the age of 61, at which time they must begin renewing every 5 years. At age 66, a driver can renew by mail only with a doctor or optometrist’s certification that they have passed an eye exam within the six months prior. In Connecticut, older drivers aren’t subjected to mandated restrictions, but they can opt for a cheaper, two-year license renewal, as opposed to the standard six-year option. In Georgia, anyone over the age of 59 has to renew their license every five years, instead of every eight years, and anyone older than 64 has to pass an eye exam with every renewal. In Illinois, drivers who reach the age of 87 must undergo annual renewals.

AAA reports that older drivers need to be specifically aware of changes in their vision, hearing, cognition, reaction time and the side effects of certain prescription medications. Even when there are issues, it doesn’t necessarily mean one must give up his or her driver’s license. However, adjustments may need to be made. These might include limitation of nighttime driving, being fitted for hearing aids and avoiding certain areas at peak traffic congestion times.

Additional Resources:

Birmingham PD: Elderly couple killed in Hwy 280 accident, Sept. 9, 2013, By Nate Hall, FOX6 WBRC

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