Bradenton accident draws attention to area's older drivers

skennedy@bradenton.comFebruary 4, 2014 

The Chevrolet Tahoe SUV involved in the church accident that killed three and injured four is towed Sunday after being retrieved from a canal. RICHARD DYMOND/Bradenton Herald

MANATEE -- Florida requires some special measures of older drivers to ensure safety on the road, but none applicable to the 79-year-old driver involved in the Sunday church crash that killed three pedestrians -- she was too young.

When a person reaches 80, Florida requires they renew their license every six years instead of every eight years, according to John Lucas, press secretary for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Drivers older than 80, regardless of citizenship, status or renewal method, must also take a mandatory vision test, he said.

Doreen Landstra, the driver involved in the accident that killed three and injured four others, had a valid driver's license without any restrictions, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

But she did use a walker to get around.

"We try to emphasize age is not as much a factor as medical conditions," said Sandra Winter, research assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions.

Some medical conditions increase with age, accompa

nied by physical and cognitive declines that tend to create a driving risk, she said.

Such declines don't affect all aging drivers equally, and can also affect younger people, such as those with diabetes, which can affect vision, limb sensation and reaction time.

"We try to emphasize it's not all about age," Winter said.

The rate of passenger vehicle fatal crash involvement per 100 million miles is higher for drivers 80 and older than for those of any other age group except teenagers, according to the Federal Highway Administration website.

Drivers 85 and older had the highest rate of fatal crash involvement.

Warning signs indicating driving difficulty include forgetting how to use gadgets in a car, according to Lisa Milne, a vice president at the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. Other warning signs for older drivers include:

• Forgetting how to locate familiar places.

• Failing to observe traffic signs.

• Making poor or slow decisions in traffic.

• Driving at inappropriate speeds, either too fast or too slow.

• Hitting curbs and drifting across lanes of traffic.

• Confusing the brake and the gas pedal.

If you suspect someone is an unsafe driver, fill out a form reporting questionable driving through the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. You must give your name on the report, but it is kept confidential, Lucas said.

AARP, an organization representing those 50 and older, opposes stricter testing based solely upon age, said Jeff Johnson, Florida director.

"We want safe roads for everybody," said Johnson. "I think the issue of testing is something we'd like to see across all ages. The reality is there are a lot of accidents out there among people of all ages."

Some of it is the nature of Florida's population, he said.

"From what I read, the accident was one in which everybody there was older," Johnson said. "Because of the demographics of Florida, probably the number of accidents involving older people is going to be significantly higher."

About 18.2 percent of Florida's population is 65 years or older, and 24.5 percent of Manatee County's population is older than 65, according to the U.S. Census.

Johnson recommended voluntary programs for mature drivers designed to refresh driving skills and help people adapt to changes that come with age.

Already on the state's books are possibilities that are not fully used, such as making sure physicians are checking on patients who they think might not be safe drivers, said Johnson.

"Impairments may sneak up on you," said Johnson. "Sometimes, it's easy to be overconfident behind the wheel."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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