Senior Rite Of Passage: Handing Over The Keys

It’s something we all will face — if we live long enough.

That moment of truth when we are asked to hand over our car keys — and surrender the sense of independence that those keys embody.

Understandably, the issue is emotionally charged.

For the senior motorist there’s already the calendar and the mirror. Now this: society’s signpost that the end is officially near. “Senior moments” work as self-effacing humor — but they’re not funny behind the wheel.

But no one, of course, wants to play the grim reaper to seniors who clutch that driver’s license like a personal touchstone — one that reaffirms their participation in a society that seems to increasingly marginalize them from its mainstream.

But there are other, less sentimental, reasons for such reluctance.

There’s the touchy area of age discrimination. And then the considerable influence of AARP, the advocacy group that has a history of stonewalling any age-based restrictions on older drivers.

As a result, those driver’s licenses of older Americans that are turned in are typically at the initiative of family members doing the right, however demeaning and depressing, thing. That’s because there are no additional restrictions on older drivers. None. No matter how old. And licenses can be renewed twice by mail or online without a vision test. Had Strom Thurmond been a Florida resident, he could have taken his driver’s license to the grave with him.

But the fact that older drivers are more at risk for impaired vision, hearing and/or reflexes is no mere family matter. It’s a legitimate public safety issue.

To this end, there’s legislation awaiting Gov. Jeb Bush’s signature that would require the state to accept more responsibility in the licensing of older motorists. It would require those 80 and above to pass a vision test before their license is renewed. It has the support of the AARP, and it would begin January 1.

If the object of this bill were to be too little, too late in life, this effort would already be a success. Even though there are more than 700,000 Florida drivers who would be impacted by such a law, 80 is unacceptably high as a meaningful cut-off. A range of 70 to 75 would be a practicable — and necessarily arbitrary — alternative. And vision as the sole criterion would fly in the face of what any neurologist would tell you generally about octogenarians.

Monitoring and licensing our elderly drivers is not a matter of governmental intrusion, nor is it a function of age bias. It’s common sense in behalf of the common good. Especially in this demographically skewed state.

Helping older drivers stay safe, while looking out for everyone else, should be the goal. A physical, a vision test and a field test should be part of any relevant licensing procedure.

There are worst scenarios than taking a senior’s keys, many of them tragic. Merely adding a vision test at age 80 is to be blinded to that reality.

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