Deadly Bradenton accident rekindles elderly driving debate

6:57 PM, Feb 3, 2014   |    comments
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The Florida Highway Patrol says a 79-year-old woman backed her car in a parking lot at the Sugar Creek Country Club, located inside a mobile home park where church services were taking place. She struck a crowd of pedestrians, killing three people and injuring four more.
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Tampa, FL -- Aleida Castro doesn't mind sharing her age.

"89, Thank God," she says.

And at that age, Castro had just walked out of the DMV office near Lois Ave. and MLK Blvd. in Tampa, where her Florida driver's license was renewed.

"You need to drive for everything these days," she said, "I go to church, I see people, I talk to them."

Driving keeps Castro going, alive and independent. She insists that even at 89, her reflexes are still sharp... but she doesn't drive at night, in the rain or long distances anymore.

And if the day comes that her driving skills are compromised would she give up her license?

"Of course I will. I will, yes," she says, raising her right hand to swear to it.

The state of Florida says 80 is the age of concern. That's the age that drivers can no longer renew by mail. They must come in for a vision test before getting their license issued again.

But other potential health issues are not tested for, at any age.

See Also: Elderly driver crashes into group of people, 3 killed

"It's not enough," said Michelle Harris, a spokesperson for AAA the Auto Group.

Harris says it's hard to put a number on. They offer drivers over 55 voluntarily classes to help identify age-related driving issues. The classes also help people plan their futures, so they don't necessarily lose their independence by giving up their driver's license as they age.

Seniors can make an argument they are "safer" drivers than other age groups. Statistically, older drivers do make up only a small percentage of all crashes. 

But their accidents per-mile driven are higher.

"You can have someone who's 60 years old and has lots of problems driving and things like that, and a very 'young' 80 year-old. So it's not necessarily age specific," said Harris.

Police officers responding to an accident, medical professionals, and in fact, anyone can also anonymously submit a medical reporting form available here.

If that report is substantiated by state investigators, a driver's license may be revoked until such time as that driver can prove their medical or physical impairment has been addressed.

It's an issue likely to be debated further as Baby Boomers age. One in every five drivers will be over the age of 65 by the year 2025. 

And in Florida, that number may be closer to 30 percent.

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