A medical study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology found a link between Florida’s mandatory vision tests for older drivers and fewer fatal car crashes. According to MedPage Today, doctors from the University of Alabama found a 17% decline in fatal crashes involving drivers age 80 and older in Florida, after a 2004 law required them to take a vision test every time they renew their licenses. Statistically, older drivers are involved in more collisions per miles traveled, and they are a fast-growing group, both in Florida and nationwide.
The study used data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a federal agency that studies traffic accidents nationwide, to compare Florida car crash fatality rates from before (2001-2003) and after (2004-2006) the law took effect. To rule out confusion caused by population changes, they adjusted their results for age, race and sex. They also compared the Florida numbers to numbers in Alabama and Georgia, neither of which had a similar law during the time period under study, and neither of which showed a significant change in fatal accidents involving older drivers.
The researchers found that while overall Florida car crash fatalities actually increased 6% after the vision testing law took effect, fatalities involving drivers 80 and older declined 17%. However, they did not find that the law had directly caused the decline in fatalities. The study noted that only 6.7% of the older drivers had their license renewal denied for any reason, including passing the vision test. Other possible explanations the researchers identified for the decline:
• More than three-fourths of the drivers who failed got vision care that helped them pass when they retook the test.
• Drivers who knew they would not pass could have declined to take the test at all.
• Human testers may have identified problems not related to vision in some drivers.
• The results may have been part of a larger trend unrelated to vision testing.
The article notes that other research has suggested older drivers may have other medical or cognitive problems contributing to their higher rate of accidents.
Mandatory testing for older drivers is a sticky subject in Florida, given our population of older folks and retirees. I am sympathetic to the idea that there’s a fine line between sensible public safety measures and age discrimination. As the article notes, more research is needed to definitively identify what causes the statistically higher accident rates for older drivers — not just the factors that correlate with it. Taking away a person’s driver’s license should not be done lightly, given the very real issues of practicality and self-sufficiency that it raises.
However, a decline in fatal accidents in any group is something to cheer — especially if it goes against the overall trend, as in this case. As a Florida auto accident lawyer, I have personally seen that car crashes cause wrongful deaths, brain damage and other life-changing injuries. If this law does nothing else but identify folks who need to get new glasses or contact lenses, it’s still a good law. If research turns up evidence that people from all age groups could benefit from mandatory vision testing, or that older folks should have a different kind of intervention, I would support laws on those as well.
If you’ve been seriously hurt or lost a loved one in a car accident in South Florida, please contact my firm, Cohn, Smith & Cohn, for a free consultation on your rights and your case.