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Wednesday, November 24, 1999



Isle drivers
over 75 get low
traffic grade

A UH researcher suggests
cutting driving privileges

From staff and wire reports

Tapa

Hawaii drivers older than 75 are far more likely than other motorists to be cited for offenses such as failing to yield to pedestrians, backing up dangerously and failing to stop at flashing red lights, according to a University of Hawaii political scientist.

Lawrence Nitz, a UH associate professor who researched three years' worth of traffic records, presented his findings in San Francisco this week at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America.

To deal with elderly problem drivers, Nitz suggested removing driving privileges in a way comparable to how privileges are added gradually for young drivers in some states outside Hawaii. For example, an older driver might be barred from driving at night or restricted to an area near home.

But others at the San Francisco meeting, which brought together hundreds of experts on aging, argued that most elderly drivers regulate themselves effectively, knowing when to avoid nighttime or highway driving. Some cautioned that any extra push to get elderly drivers off the roads could have negative effects -- isolating residents in areas without good public transit and reducing their independence.

A Honolulu official said there was no legislative push toward restricting elderly drivers here, but that Nitz's research sounded worth looking into.

National research shows that drivers older than 65, along with teen-agers, have the highest accident rates and fatality rates per miles driven. But recent attempts to tighten requirements for older drivers in Oregon and California have been quashed by senior-citizen groups. "It's discriminatory to base mandatory testing on the fact that someone has achieved a birthday," said Helen Savage, a lobbyist for the AARP.

That kind of political pressure is likely to increase as baby boomers age. Within the next few decades, the elderly are projected to account for a quarter of the nation's drivers.

Several states, including Hawaii, require elderly drivers to renew their licenses more frequently than other drivers, but very few require road tests or medical exams.

As of Dec. 31, 1998, there were 746,329 licensed drivers in Hawaii, including 32,332 who were 75 or older, or about 4.2 percent of the total, according to statistics kept by the City and County of Honolulu. There were 504 drivers age 90 or older, including two 98-year-olds, the oldest registered drivers in the state.

Hawaii drivers 72 years and older must renew their licenses every two years, compared to six-year renewals for drivers ages 18 to 71, said Dennis Kamimura, city licensing administrator. Drivers ages 15 to 17 renew every four years.

Before 1997, there were no six-year Hawaii licenses. Renewals were every two years for drivers ages 15 to 23 and 65 and older and every four years for drivers ages 24 to 64.

Renewals for all ages are done in person and require a vision test, but not a written exam or road test. As part of the process, motorists fill out a form that asks whether they have any infirmity that could interfere with their driving. If the applicant exhibits any condition that could impair driving, the licensing clerk can require a doctor to certify the applicant is safe to drive. That certification is referred to a medical advisory board which decides whether the license should be granted, Kamimura said.

Kamimura had not seen Nitz's research and therefore could not comment on it, but said he would like to see the entire report.



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