State pulling licenses of more elderly drivers

State laws could become stricter on renewing licenses

Author: Emily Turner, General assignment reporter, eturner@wjxt.com
Published On: Nov 08 2011 05:29:22 AM EST   Updated On: Nov 08 2011 11:40:16 AM EST
Florence Moore
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

It may be a conversation some have waited to have with their parents or spouse. Or it could be something they are worried about concerning themselves: When is someone too old to drive?

It's a touchy subject, and as the population ages, it's only going to become more common.

While some age gracefully, there are just some things Basil Watts said can't be avoided. That's why he and his family made the decision to take away his mother's car when she got too old.

"They get old. I mean, that's life. Driving is just a privilege, it's not a right," Watts said.

His family took her mother's driving privilege away, but the state is now stepping in more often to do so when the family hasn't or can't.

Some Florida state figures show some interesting points.

The number of Florida residents who've had their drivers licenses revoked because they are deemed physically or mentally unfit has more than doubled in the last decade. The main explanation are medical conditions related to age, such as dementia, stroke and seizures.

There was recently an accident that killed two fruit stand owners on Jacksonville's Westside in which an elderly driver's health concerns are suspected as the cause.

To avoid situations like that, state officials are promoting a longstanding, but little-known Florida law that allows anyone to notify the state about motorists with physical or mental conditions that might affect their driving.

The reports are confidential, so families can avoid that awkward conversation.

Linda Levins, of ElderSource, says it might be a good decision and easier than a sit-down talk, but it's a big one, and so this topic will always have to be handled gently.

"There's a lot wrapped up in having a drivers license, in terms of identity and dignity," Levins said.

In addition to other health issues, Florida now requires drivers age 80 and older to have their eyes tested every six years. Since 2004, nearly 7,000 licenses have been revoked based on those vision tests.