Texas is not the first state to impose additional restrictions on issuing drivers licenses to elderly residents, but the new laws that went into effect at the first of this month are not without controversy.

Texas residents 79 and older are no longer allowed to renew their licenses by mail or Internet, and they must submit to a mandatory vision test. Drivers 85 and older will also need to renew every two years, rather than six.

Texas has more than 480,000 drivers who are age 79 and older. For every one of them, that license is a ticket to independence. But if physical limitations — including vision problems — become severe, they can also lead to tragic accidents. The Texas legislation, dubbed “Katie’s Law,” was prompted by the 2006 death of 17-year-old Dallas high school student Katie Bolka who died after a 90-year-old driver ran a red light.

In our car-centered culture, and especially in rural areas where public transportation is nonexistent, giving up the car keys is tantamount to giving up one’s freedom. But Americans are living longer and are much less prone to retire to the front porch rocking chair, and the baby-boomer generation shows no signs of going into retirement quietly. The nation’s population of drivers 65 and older expected to double to 57 million by 2030. As their ability to drive safely diminishes, it’s understandable that national and state agencies and legislators must take steps to reduce the number of accidents involving them.

Easier-to-read signs, with larger lettering and clearer fonts, are also in our future. Signal lights will be designed so they are more easily seen. Lanes will be marked more clearly. Improved lighting is also being added to enhance safety at treacherous intersections. Drivers of all ages will benefit from these improvements.

Even two-year license renewals won’t guarantee complete safety. Physical abilities can deteriorate much more quickly than that. It remains the responsibility of family and friends of senior drivers to monitor the skills of those they know and care about. It won’t be be easy confronting them when the time to give up driving arrives, and it may not be convenient to have to arrange transportation for trips to the grocery store, the doctor or church. It could, however, save a few lives.

Brownwood Bulletin