Elderly drivers who want to renew their licenses would have to prove their skill behind the wheel under a bill proposed to the Idaho Legislature.
“Really, it’s just a safety thing,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Twila Hornbeck, R-Grangeville.
“I hope that seniors won’t get upset about it because I know most of them want competency on the highway, too,” said Hornbeck, 59.
Some senior citizens will be upset about the bill, however, based on similar attempts at testing older drivers elsewhere in the nation.
If the Idaho bill becomes law, motorists older than 75 will have to pass a driving test - the same one a teen takes to get a first license - every four years. If they do not pass, they would lose their driving privileges.
All Idaho drivers are required by law to have their licenses renewed every four years. But the only test required is an eye exam - regardless of a driver’s age.
In Kootenai County, licensing officials ask some people to take road tests if they appear shaky or frail or have other medical difficulties. However, it is up to licensing employees’ discretion to ask someone to take a road test.
Last summer, an 82-year-old Sandpoint man was asked by police to be re-evaluated after he had been observed driving on sidewalks and swerving too close to other cars. Before the man showed up at the licensing bureau, however, he ran into an 87-year-old pedestrian crossing a street, seriously injuring the man.
Also in Sandpoint, an 86-year-old driver had just gotten his license renewed last summer before pulling into an intersection without bothering to look for oncoming traffic. Police spotted the man trying to drive through the intersection and tried to pull him over. He drove onto a jogging path before stopping.
Hornbeck said she wants to require the driving tests because the state’s oldest citizens are involved in more than their fair share of traffic accidents.
She’s right. According to 1994 statistics from the state Transportation Department, Idaho residents age 75 and older make up 5.3 percent of all licensed drivers statewide but are involved in 5.7 percent of all accidents.
“In my district, there was an elderly driver who made a turn in front of a teenage girl and killed her,” she said.
The girl’s grandparents were among those encouraging Hornbeck to push for the new law.
One elderly Boise man said he has no problem with a test.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Dale C. Walters, who owns a clock shop. “I’m 75, going on 76, and I don’t think we can be careful enough.”
Walters said he and his wife, who travel daily for clock deliveries, take classes to keep up their driving skills. If they complete the classes, they get a break on their auto insurance.
“I get honked at, sometimes,” he said. “You know how young people are: If you don’t move fast enough, they honk at you. I just wave at them like I know who they are.”
Unlike Walters, not all seniors take the idea of mandatory driver’s tests in stride.
Florida earlier this year tried to pass a law requiring people 70 years and older to be tested every two years.
A report from the Florida Department of Highway Safety showed that elderly drivers were involved in more accidents per miles driven than middle-aged drivers.
Regardless, the American Association of Retired People does not support blanket testing for older drivers.
Such tests make drivers nervous, scaring them away from getting their licenses renewed even though they are capable drivers, the AARP argues.
In rural areas, elderly drivers depend on their cars to get to the grocery store, the doctor’s office and church. In many cases, no other means of transportation is available.
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