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Legislature

AARP supports eye tests for drivers 80 and older

The retiree group has opposed similar efforts but hopes to include measures to protect elderly drivers.

©Associated Press
March 8, 2003


TALLAHASSEE -- In a stark reversal, leaders of Florida's largest organization representing retirees have endorsed legislation that would require vision tests for drivers who are age 80 and older.

AARP Florida, which represents more than 2.6-million Florida residents over 50, opposed similar measures in past years.

The state Senate bill (SB 52), sponsored by Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, would require those 80 and older to have their eyes tested when renewing their drivers' licenses and prevent them from renewing their licenses by telephone or electronically.

Lyn Bodiford, AARP Florida's state affairs coordinator, said the organization's position on the issue has been evolving over the years.

"For the first time . . . we've gotten together with the sponsors and figured out a way that we can work together on the big picture," Bodiford said.

"I'm stunned," Wise said Friday. "When they said that, it just changed the whole dynamic."

Wise said AARP told him about two weeks ago that it would support the legislation.

Backers have agreed to amend the bill to include a task force that would look at how to keep elderly drivers on the road as long as possible and to find ways to improve transportation for those who can no longer drive.

Bodiford said the amendment would delay implementation until Jan. 1, 2004, so the new procedure can be put into effect without creating confusion.

She said the task force will also look at ways to increase public knowledge of an existing procedure for people to confidentially notify the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles if they know of a driver who should be taken off the road.

Bodiford said few people know about the procedure, which involves filling out and filing a form with details about the risky driver. Forms are available at driver's license offices and on the department's Web site.

Even with the new AARP support, Wise rated the chances of passing his bill at 50-50. Without the endorsement, he said it would have been a "negative 4" on a scale of 1 to 10.

Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, who has introduced an identical bill (HB 633), said House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, has agreed to support the bill as long as the AARP is behind it.

Slosberg said legislators had thought it would be political suicide to vote for such a bill. But he said he found a different reaction when he held focus groups in his Palm Beach County district, which contains a large number of elderly residents.

"Ninety-five percent of the people loved the bill," Slosberg said.

At the Tallahassee Senior Center, the bill received rave reviews Friday.

"I hope it goes through," said Marjorie Brenner, 83. "As we age, we all experience diminishing vision, especially for night driving."

Jean Dunnigan, 78, said she also supported the exams.

"If you're going to get in a car and you're going to be driving, you're taking your life in your hands and the other person's life in your hand," Dunnigan said.

What's next?

SB 52 is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the Senate Transportation Committee.

HB 633 has been referred to five committees, with no hearing set yet.

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