New Texas law focuses on elderly drivers

| 5/31/2007

Elderly drivers in Texas will face increased scrutiny under legislation signed by Gov. Rick Perry. Oregon and Wisconsin lawmakers have considered similar efforts recently.

The new law in Texas requires drivers at age 79 to appear in person to renew their personal or commercial driver’s licenses. The licenses will be valid for six years – the same as current law.

Affected drivers will be subject to mandatory vision tests and behind-the-wheel exams if officers with the Texas Department of Public Safety have any questions about their driving ability.

Sponsored by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, the bill – HB84 – also requires drivers to renew their licenses every two years after they turn 85.

Renewal fees will be $8 for personal driver’s licenses and $25 for CDLs.

Figures from the Department of Public Safety indicate there are nearly 158,000 licensed drivers ages 85 to 90 in the state. Nearly 250,000 drivers are older, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Opponents say it is unfair to focus solely on older drivers. Supporters point to studies by insurance companies that show some seniors 80 and older can become high-risk drivers.

Sight and responsiveness are cited for the deterioration in driving ability.

“We’re trying to balance the need for independence for many of our senior citizens with their safety and safety of others on the road,” Branch told The Morning News.

The new law takes effect Sept. 1.

While Texas legislators approved a bill to toughen the renewal process for elderly drivers, a related effort in Oregon has died.

The bill would have required drivers age 75 and older to renew their licenses and undergo testing more frequently. State law now requires all drivers to renew their licenses every eight years. Drivers older than 50 must take acuity and field-of-vision tests.

If the bill had become law, drivers would have been required to renew their licenses every four years. They also would have been required to pass eyesight and driving-skills tests, the Corvallis Gazette-Times reported.

Opponents say it’s unfair to single out elderly drivers. Supporters say the change is necessary to help keep the state’s roads safe. They cite statistics from the Oregon Department of Transportation that show drivers 75 and older have an accident rate only slightly lower than beginning drivers.

Others say it is important to address now the concerns about older drivers. They point out the number of drivers 65 and older are the country’s fastest-growing demographic. By 2030, the number of drivers in that age group is expected to double to 70 million.

The bill – HB2639 – remained in the House Ways and Means Committee at the deadline to advance to the chamber floor, effectively killing it for the year.

A bill in the Wisconsin Assembly would require people age 75 to 85 to take free vision tests or submit results from a doctor’s test every three years. The measure – AB2 – would require drivers over age 85 to take vision and written knowledge tests every two years.

Existing state law allows for renewal of driver’s licenses every eight years.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor