Danger Behind The Wheel?

Sharyn Alfonsi CBS

While Morris Gurwich, a south Florida retiree, is a touch sensitive about his age, he's also a realist. Which is why he's volunteered to have his eyes and ears checked out, his reaction time and motor skills tested to see if he's still up to driving.

"I think everybody should be examined when they hit 70 or 75. They should be examined because you lose something," admitted Gurwich.

In Florida, an elderly driver can go 18 years between eye or ear exams. That's right — someone moving to Florida and getting a license at 75 doesn't have to be checked again until they're 93, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod.

"Something has to be done to help not only our population, but the people we are inflicting ourselves upon," said Roma Hilsberg.

This is what Hilsberg means: a 91-year-old who backed into a bank in Los Angeles, killing a baby; or an 82-year-old in Florida who smashed into an office, injuring eight. For those who think, "there ought to be a law" - there is. The law of political reality.

"We're a big voting block. No question about it. And we have to be catered to," boasts Hilsberg.

Elder Driving Laws
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When it comes to age-based testing for senior drivers, Florida is not alone. Right now 32 states in America have no additional requirements for seniors renewing their licenses, even though drivers 75 and older have higher rates of fatal accidents than any other group except teenagers.

At Eastern Virginia Medical School, the answer is not to legislate. It's to investigate. A new and fitting way to gauge the effects of time.

When To Stop
The Automobile Association of America has issued guidelines for older drivers to recognize when it might be time to stop driving:

  • Having a series of minor accidents or near misses.
  • Having wandering thoughts or being unable to concentrate.
  • Being unable to read ordinary road signs.
  • Having other drivers honk at you fequently.
  • Being spoken to about your driving by police, family and friends.
  • Researchers ask elderly drivers to draw a clock, believing it's a quick and easy test of a senior's ability to drive.

    "It's very quick. It takes about 15 seconds and it's very easy to score," explained Dr. Barbara Freund of Eastern Virginia Medical School.

    If it seems like an awful lot to ask from a simple sketch, researches say numbers jammed too closely together or listed in the wrong order can red-flag potential problem drivers who can then be further checked on a simulator.

    Former pro football player Jim Ringo has early stage Alzheimer's and wanted to see if he'd lost anything behind the wheel. "If I felt like I was endangering someone else's life, I'd put the keys away."

    So far, so good for Jim Ringo in Virginia and for Morris Gurwich in Florida.

    "I know that it can extend my driving a little longer without hurting anybody — and this to me is very important," said Gurwich.

    Two men for whom the simplest tests are guiding the most sensitive decisions. In a nation where the number of elderly drivers will rise 20 percent in the next 10 years, perhaps it's an idea worth remembering.



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    • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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