If your senior years are rapidly approaching – or whizzing by in the rear-view mirror – you might fear renewing your Florida driver’s license.
Especially if your vision or driving habits have changed.
Patients are often anxious when it comes time to renew their driver’s license, admits Dr. S Rana, Board-Certified ophthalmologist for St Lucie in Eye. Once someone hits their late 60s or 70s, they begin to worry about passing a vision test or a driver’s exam in order to keep their license.
It’s no surprise older Americans want to keep their license and driving privileges.
Driving helps mature adults remain mobile and independent. In most towns and cities across America, driving is the key to socialization, shopping, and maintaining activities of daily life. And to be clear- there are LOTS of seniors traveling the highways. According to the CDC, there were nearly 48 million drivers aged 65 and older in 2020 – a 68% increase since the year 2000.
Yet studies show that older adults have the highest risk of fatality from auto accidents, many of which result from visual impairment.
Unfortunately, Florida ranks the highest in the number of fatalities for older drivers but is not the most dangerous overall. That accolade belongs to Mississippi and Kentucky, rated the most dangerous states for senior drivers. Read the study HERE
Senior Drivers Have More Accidents per Mile
Compared with middle-aged drivers, older drivers suffer a 3-fold increase in car crashes per mile driven, even though they drive fewer miles overall. Additionally, seniors are three times more likely to die as a result of a car accident compared to their middle-aged counterparts.
Nearly 5000 drivers aged 70 and older suffered fatal crashes in 1999, a 42% increase compared to previous decades.
The trend of increased fatalities is expected to continue as our population ages.
How to Prevent Senior Driving Fatalities
Many states have adopted strategies to help reduce the risk of fatalities for senior drivers.
Many require drivers to report in person for license renewal. This tactic has been associated with a 31 percent reduction in fatal crashes for drivers 85 and older according to one study. Passing a vision test has also produced similar declines in fatal crashes for seniors.
To understand the risks and benefits of driving, it’s important to evaluate your own personal risks and capabilities as you get older.
Follow these 9 rules to maintain your vision, safety, and driver’s privileges as you age
Rule #1 – Know the Steps to Renew Your Florida Driver’s License
- Drivers up to age 79 are required to renew their Florida driver’s license every eight years.
- Drivers 80 and above must renew their license every six years.
- As long as your license remains current you should not have to take a driver’s test (behind the wheel or written) in order to update your license.
- Online renewal can be completed every other cycle up to age 79.
- Online renewal does not require a vision test.
- In-person renewal does require a vision test.
- Check out the Florida requirements for older drivers HERE
Rule #2 – Know the Vision Requirements to Renew a Florida Driver’s License
At age 80, drivers are required to complete an eye exam at each renewal. All drivers are required to have the best possible vision and meet minimum visual standards for licensing.
- 20/ 20/50 or worse in either eye with or without corrective lenses are referred to an eye specialist for possible improvement.
- 20/70 In either eye, or both eyes together may pass with or without corrective lenses, if vision cannot be improved.
- If one eye is blind or 20/200 or worse, the other eye must be 20/40 or better.
- 130 degrees is the minimum acceptable field of vision. (The normal visual field reaches 180º in the horizontal plane. (160º for monocular vision) and 135º in the vertical plane)
- If the vision test reveals medical conditions that result in a referral to an eye specialist, such as a Florida-licensed ophthalmologist or an optometrist, a customer will need to submit a completed Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Report of Eye Exam Form: HSMV Form 72010. NOTE: The Report of Eye Exam (HSMV 72010) must be used if: 1) the patient’s visual acuity is 20/50 or worse in either eye, OR 2) there is any indication of eye disease or injury that would affect patient’s driving ability.
The eye exam may be completed at the DMV, or by your personal medical or eye doctor who must complete a Mature Driver Vision Test form and conduct the exam within one year of the renewal request.
Rule #3 – Understand That You Can Be Reported for Hazardous Driving in Florida
Florida law allows, and even encourages, people to confidentially report drivers who are a hazard on the road to the DHSMV. Anyone can make these reports, including your doctor, neighbor, family member, or a bystander.
The DHSMV investigates to see if a report is valid. If you are reported and investigated, you may be required to retake and pass a driving exam (written and behind the wheel) to maintain your license. Also, you may have to visit a doctor to get a medical report that clears you to drive.
So, while you don’t typically have to retake a driving test when you turn 70, that can change if someone makes a report about your driving habits, or if you have too many marks on your driving record.
Rule #4– Look for Ways to Improve your Driving Safety. Even if you think you don’t need it.
With such a large percentage of seniors in Florida, the state works hard to assist aging populations. One of the DMV’s driver-related programs is called the Florida Grand Driver. It is intended to assist seniors through driver safety awareness programs. Learn more about it HERE
Additionally, organizations like AARP and AAA offer assistance for older drivers. The CarFit program entails working with seniors to ensure they can see clearly over their steering wheel, maintain proper distance between the steering wheel, and are comfortable and safe when buckled into their car.
This includes easy access to the gas and brake pedals, as well as making sure adjustable head restraints are at an appropriate level. Little adjustments can make a big difference when it comes to driver confidence, capability, and overall safety. Learn more about CarFit HERE
Rule #5 – Know That Your Florida Driver’s License May Be Renewed With Restrictions.
In some cases, your license may be renewed but with certain restrictions. Most commonly, drivers are required to wear glasses or corrective contact lenses while driving. Other common restrictions and requirements may include:
- No driving after dark.
- Individual must wear a hearing aid while driving.
- Power steering, automatic transmission, and mechanical directional signals.
- An extra left side rearview mirror.
- Steering wheel with grips or knobs.
- Seat cushions to elevate the driver to the proper height for a clear view of the road.
- Hand controls or pedal extensions
Rule #6 – Understand How Aging Effects Your Reaction Times
As younger drivers are more likely to cause an accident from speeding or driving recklessly, older drivers typically cause accidents related to poor reaction times or impaired sensory processing:
- Driving through a red light or stop sign.
- Making improper left turns in front of motorcycles or bicyclists.
- Driving too slow or far below the speed limit.
- Disrupting traffic by braking unexpectedly and following too close.
- Misjudging distances and improper lane change.
- Driving the wrong way on roads or through parking lots.
- Failing to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks and intersections.
- Choosing to operate a motor vehicle although it is hard to see during dusk, dawn, or nighttime hours.
- Distractions caused by health conditions.
Rule #7 – Follow These Important Points To Remain A Safe Driver
As you get older, vision, reflexes, and hearing change. These changes can make it harder to drive safely. Of these changes, vision is of primary importance. Effects of aging on your vision:
- Light. The older you get, the more light you need to see clearly. For example, a 60-year-old needs 10 times as much light as a 19-year-old. It’s a good idea to avoid driving at night if you can.
- Focus. How quickly your eyes focus declines with age. Younger drivers need only about 2 seconds to adjust from near to far, as in looking down from the dashboard to the road up ahead. Drivers over 40 need 3 seconds or more. The older you are, the more time it takes for your eyes to adjust to distance.
- Colors. Colors, especially red, get harder to see with age. Some older drivers take twice as long to see the flash of brake lights as younger drivers.
- Depth perception. As you age, your vision gets weaker. You may not have good side vision or depth perception. This makes it harder for you to judge how fast other cars are moving.
- Vision and Hearing. Vision problems and hearing impairments combined can cause senior drivers to miss visual or auditory cues to stop or slow down.
Rule #8 – Consider Safe Alternatives to Driving
To continue driving safely, impose realistic driving restrictions as an alternative to completely giving up driving:
- Avoid driving at night and in bad weather.
- Drive only in familiar places.
- Drive only within a certain radius of home.
- Avoid expressways.
- Limit distractions while driving by turning off the radio and other noises, avoiding conversations with people in the car, and not texting or using a cell phone.
Rule #9 – Know When to Stop Driving Completely
Warning signs that it’s time to stop driving:
- You often have close calls with other drivers.
- You have trouble moving your foot between the gas and brake pedals, or you get confused between the two.
- Loved ones are worried about your driving.
- You feel scared or nervous when you drive.
- Other cars, bikes, or people seem to appear out of nowhere.
- You miss traffic signs and signals when you drive.
Concerned about your vision while driving? Schedule a comprehensive eye exam with one of St Lucie Eye’s specialists. Request an Appointment HERE.