Stop sign

April 11, 2009 

So, when's the last time you've seen an elderly driver speeding around corners while talking on a cell phone and sipping a caramel-mocha-latte whatever? How about never? That's because older drivers tend to go more slowly and keep their minds on what they're doing.

Maybe Charlotte Republican state Rep. Ric Killian, a well-meaning fellow no doubt, should have pondered that before he set himself up for a little lesson in hardball politics this week. Killian introduced legislation to toughen drivers' license renewals for older people, including shortening the renewal period for those over 75 to three years instead of five, and requiring those older than 85 to take road tests.

It's no surprise what happened. The AARP organized some heated opposition, and Killian's fellow lawmakers heard the message loud and clear. His bill was gutted.

While Killian did use statistics showing that elderly drivers are right up there with the youngest in crashes per mile, common-sense points ruled the day. For one thing, driver's license examiners can require road tests of people at their discretion. And, the examiners are trained to spot vision problems, for example. In other words, safeguards are in place.

Killian also should have recognized that most older folks don't drive very much, and tend to limit themselves to familiar routes. And, having a driver's license and the feeling of freedom and control that comes with it is important to people. Giving up a license, or feeling that the renewal process is skewed to encourage them to surrender it, can be a devastating thought for older adults.

That 17 percent of state voters are 66 years of age or older doubtless was on the minds of legislators in the House committee that considered this issue. But whether or not that played a role, the outcome was a sensible one.

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