Editorial: 10 years between eye tests is too long for older drivers

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

If you saw the photo we ran last month of octogenarians Bobbie and Howard Jenkins of Hingham cross-country skiing at World’s End, you’d have a good idea of why state Sen. Brian A. Joyce catches flak anytime he mentions stricter standards for older drivers.

Critics of the proposal to increase vision testing for drivers over 85 say the cutoff age is too arbitrary, that there are plenty of older people who are in peak health and who would be unfairly targeted by such a change.

They’re right about one thing: It is arbitrary. But no more arbitrary than setting 16 as the age at which you can get your license.

Like the age minimum for licensure, Joyce’s bill is based on statistics.

AAA conducted a study in 2001 and found that drivers over 65 were 25 percent more likely to get into an accident than middle-aged drivers. They also found that drivers over 85 were 50 percent more likely to get in a crash during a left-hand turn.

Joyce also cited a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which found drivers over 80 hit more pedestrians than drivers in any other age group. The study reported that drivers 75 and older were second only to teenage drivers in fatalities per 100 miles driven.

We’re not unaware that drivers at the youngest end of the age spectrum also have more than their fair share of accidents.

As a matter of fact, laws aimed specifically at them prove that it’s sometimes necessary to single out drivers of a particular age group.

Massachusetts drivers need now only pass a vision test once every 10 years. Joyce is right when he says that’s not often enough for the oldest drivers.

The majority of states already have laws requiring older drivers to take more vision and road tests, obtain letters from their doctor or limit remote license renewals. Eleven require mandatory vision tests at time of renewal and 17 have accelerated renewal cycles based on age.

We’re not saying anyone older than 85 should be pulled out from behind the wheel. We’re simply saying – as we’ve said before – there comes a point when it makes sense to watch more closely for signs of impairment.

Joyce has been honking this horn for years.

The bill, first introduced three years ago, last drew statewide attention after Britney Noel, 8, was struck by an 86-year-old driver outside Lyons Elementary School in Randolph during the presidential primary election last February. And a steady flow of accidents involving older drivers keeps it alive.

But legislators wary of the firestorm the issue creates among a key voting bloc have let it die of neglect in committee each time.

It’s time to stop stalling.

As unpopular as it may be politically, the safety gains should be enough to convince legislators that it deserves their support.

The Patriot Ledger