A smart update to the law

Published 9:49 pm Saturday, December 27, 2014

There’s no disputing the statistics. The U.S. population is aging. According to the Census Bureau, more than 20 percent of U.S. residents are projected to be 65 or older by 2030, compared with 13 percent in 2010 and 9.8 percent in 1970.

At the same time, the number of people driving on the nation’s roads also continues to rise. In June, IHS Automotive, a company that provides information and analysis for government planning, released a report noting that there were 252.7 million light vehicles on the nation’s roads last January. That number represented a record for the U.S. and an increase of 1.5 percent over the previous year.

Given the two trends and the special challenges older drivers face behind the wheel, it is appropriate for traffic and driver’s licensing laws to evolve to meet the changing needs of the traveling public.

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Virginia legislators hope a new state law that goes into effect Jan. 1 will help solve some of the problems caused by the convergence of the trends regarding aging and vehicular use.

The new law reduces the age for mandatory in-person renewal of driver’s licenses from 80 to 75 and requires drivers 75 and older to renew their licenses every five years, instead of every eight years. And to renew their licenses, drivers 75 and older must also pass the department’s vision requirements or present a vision statement, 90 days old or less, from an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

The number of Virginia licensed drivers 65 or older numbered 817,339 in the 2010 Census. According to AAA, about 16.1 percent of licensed drivers in Virginia will be subject to the new laws.

Nobody loves the idea of spending extra time at the Division of Motor Vehicles, but the new requirements are a reasonable response to a problem that will only continue to grow in the coming decades. As the commonwealth’s population continues growing older, there may well be other adjustments needed to accommodate elderly drivers while ensuring their safety and that of the motoring public. Legislators should commit to revisiting the issue on a regular basis.