Many people have had the awkward, tense experience of sitting down with an aging mom and dad and starting up the discussion about driving.
It usually doesn’t go well. People of driving age don’t want to be told they cannot drive.
But there comes a point when some people should get off the road.
As one way to help make roads safer, state Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, recently proposed requiring elderly drivers to pass vision exams every four years instead of every eight.
In Wisconsin, drivers who have advanced beyond a probationary license must take a vision test every eight years to renew their driver’s licenses. Lehman’s proposal would change that to every four years for those 75 and older; they would have to pass a vision exam but would not have to retake a driving test, he said. They also could take the exam at their regular eye doctor, rather than visiting a state Division of Motor Vehicles location.
This proposal seems like a good compromise.
In the past, there have been proposals to require aging drivers to take mandatory driving tests. The problem with these tests is that they don’t necessarily show someone’s true ability because you could get so nervous and end up making a careless mistake.
Also, Lehman said, the cost for his proposal is minimal compared to one that would require more road tests.
Naturally, the proposal is not popular with everyone.
While AARP-Wisconsin didn’t take a position on the proposal, spokesman Jim Flaherty said that the organization in general “does not favor legislation that looks at drivers based solely on their age. Diminished capacity of driving is not necessarily linked to age,” according to a report in the Jan. 2 Journal Times.
We also have had reluctance to single out people based solely on age. Some 100-year-old drivers could easily out-drive their 40-year-old counterparts. Older drivers tend to take more precautions regarding when to drive and are less likely to drink and drive.
Yet seniors top the charts when it comes to fatal crashes, right next to young, inexperienced drivers.
We have strict laws here in Wisconsin for young drivers because of their inexperience.
While seniors have years of experience, they can face other challenges that should also be addressed.
With age, vision tends to diminish, pain or stiffness in the neck can make it harder to check for traffic, leg pain can make it harder to push on the gas or brake pedals and reaction time also slows.
No one should ever say: “You just turned 75, now hand over your license.” On the other hand, requiring eye tests every four years rather than eight years doesn’t seem heavy-handed.
Lehman’s proposal should be able to get bipartisan support. But, no matter what happens with this bill, we hope seniors, doctors and adult children alike don’t shy away from the tough discussions on driving. We would much rather see someone willingly hand over a license than be forced to give it up.