The Virginia General Assembly has passed a traffic safety bill that would put new restrictions on senior citizen drivers. House Bill 771 would lower the age for drivers required to take a vision test to renew a license from 80 to 75. It also would require license renewals every five years instead of the current eight years.
The legislation was signed by the leaders of the Senate and House and sent to Governor Terry McAuliffe for his signature. Regardless of whether Governor McAuliffe decides not to sign HB 771 into law, senior citizens in Virginia can count on hearing more about driver license restrictions in the future.
Some senior citizens in Virginia oppose reducing the age for the early vision-testing requirement, but a poll showed that 52% of Virginians favor it. Data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicate that the risk of an auto accident increases for drivers over the age of 74.
The bill would affect many senior drivers on Virginia roads. The Insurance Institute estimates that almost 80% of drivers age 70 and older still have licenses, and seniors account for 11% of all licensed drivers in the United States. Senior citizens are good drivers generally. They have very low rates of drunk driving and usually wear their seatbelts. However, the new restriction would assess the eyesight of senior drivers early and often, so that impaired vision would not contribute to car crashes.
In 2010, only 1% of fatalities among senior citizens over the age of 69 were due to traffic crashes. Opponents of the restriction point out that senior drivers are for the most part safe on Virginia roads. Nonetheless, the Insurance Institute and other organizations have documented the vulnerability of seniors to injuries and fatalities in car accidents. The consequences of car accidents can be far more devastating for older people than for younger people.
Older drivers and passengers are more likely to require hospitalization in the event of a car accident than younger crash victims. Elderly people are often more susceptible to opportunistic infections contracted at the hospital or doctor’s office. And due to the effects of aging, some elderly auto crash victims die outright from injuries that younger drivers and passengers would survive. Injuries in auto crashes are riskier for older people who may have compromised immune systems, chronic illnesses, and secondary injuries that make a situation worse.