There are more than 20,000 people over the age of 90 licensed to drive in Georgia, according to the Department of Driver Services.
The increasing number of older Georgia drivers and some tragic accidents have prompted one local attorney to examine the issue. He and his team have drafted legislation that would involve families in the license renewal process.
Christopher Simon spoke to Channel 2’s Kerry Kavanaugh about the legislation he drafted, and why he thinks families should be an important part of conversations with older Georgians about their ability to drive safely.
"If because of age, or just because of unlucky genetics, a person gets to the point that they simply are a danger to others behind the wheel, there's no safety check on that," Simon told Kavanaugh. “Who better to spot a coming problem than the people that have Thanksgiving dinner with you? They begin to see it when you drop a pan more frequently than you used to.”
Simon’s legislation would allow family members to seek a doctor’s opinion on whether they should continue driving. An independent doctor, chosen by the driver, would be the one to determine if a person was able to drive safely.
If a driver cleared by a physician were to cause an accident, Simon said his legislation would protect the doctor from liability.
“As long as you are physically capable of driving, it shouldn’t scare you,” Simon said. “But it’s something that we as families could do something about, without too much legislation, without too much government interference.”
Some states, like Nevada, Illinois, and Washington DC, already practice physical checkups for some older drivers. Simon said he modeled his legislation after a provision in Maryland’s law.
Ninety-year-old Jimmie Osborne has already started practicing self-regulation as a way to keep her, and other drivers, safe. Osborne, who retired as a driving instructor for AARP last December, said each driver is different when it comes to their ability to drive safely.
“You have to know your body,” Osborne said. “Once you know your body, you can make decisions for your body.”
The freedom of driving comes with great responsibility, according to Osborne. She said she will know when she will no longer be able to drive safely.
But many families have older loved ones who do not know when it is time for them to hang up the keys.
Channel 2's consumer advisor Clark Howard said it is something his family experienced firsthand. His 90-year-old mother, Joy, suffers from advanced dementia.
Howard says he and his siblings were forced to make the decision for Joy to come off the road.
“And let me tell you, she was mad,” Howard said. “But we had to do it.”
After a close call Howard said his family united and made a tough decision to keep their mother safe.
“It would have been bad enough if she was in an accident and she died, or was injured, but what we feared as children is that knowing. We had knowledge she should not be driving,” Howard said. “If she had a wreck and God forbid injured someone else or killed someone else, think how'd we feel? How do you think she'd feel?”
He said families should be allowed to be the first line of defense when making decisions about loved ones’ safety.
"We do need some kind of way that the authority of the state can help families to make sure that is somebody reaches a point where they don't have the capability to drive they're not putting others and themselves in danger," Howard said.
Osborne says families should be involved to a certain extent.
"What about your children, should they have a say?” Kavanaugh asked Osborne.
“Yes, they do have a say," she replied.
But, Osborne said any law that empowers families should not take power away from the individual.
"Let's talk about what you want to do, versus what I think you should be doing," Osborn said. “Limitation is a bad word for some people. But, limitations save lives.”