Every year in Florida, the number of older drivers continues to grow. In fact, Florida has more drivers over the age of 65 than any other state in the nation. By the year 2030, the state is projected to grow by 27 percent in the category of drivers 65 and older.
Many are excellent drivers, but do some, perhaps, pose more of a risk to themselves and others? Nationwide, this is an issue the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is taking a closer look at.
Florida's Department of Transportation is also studying this issue and has formed a coalition called the Safe Mobility for Life Program. The goal is to address what the state calls "aging road users" and develop a strategic safety plan.
In the Tampa Bay area, there have been a number of accidents involving older drivers. Just last month, 86-year-old Manuela Gonzalez got into an accident which could have been a lot worse. Surveillance video shows her backing out of a gas station in a Town 'n Country neighborhood and wedging her car between the gas pump and a van that had just pulled in.
Gonzalez told the deputy on scene that her foot got stuck between the gas pedal and brake. Fortunately nobody was hurt. The accident is still under investigation.
"I really don't see it as age-related," Gail Holly, program manager with Safe Mobility for Life, told FOX 13.
Hillsborough County has 22,558 drivers who are between the ages of 81 and 90 years old. The oldest category tracked by DHSMV is 91-100 years old. Hillsborough County has 2,553 drivers who fall into that range; Pinellas County has the most in the Bay Area at 4,680.
"Transportation equals quality of life that gets you where you need to be and we want to make sure they stay connected to their communities," offered Courtney Heidelberg with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
She told FOX 13 that Gonzalez has a valid license and there is no age limitation for Florida drivers.
"We don't necessarily look at age, but rather the physical fitness of the driver to safely operate a motor vehicle," explained Heidleberg.
There are some difference between young and old drivers. Florida requires drivers over the age of 80 to take a vision test when renewing their license and it's good for just six years instead of eight.
If law enforcement believes an older driver is medically unfit to drive, they can alert DHSMV and the agency will investigate. Members of the general public can do the same thing and remain anonymous if they are concerned: http://www.flhsmv.gov/ddl/faqmed.html