ElderLaw News

ElderLaw News is a weekly e-newsletter that brings you reports of legal developments and other trends of vital interest to seniors and their advocates. This newsletter is brought to you by The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., William S. Fralin, Esq., President.

Seniors and Driving

A recent Wall Street Journal article by Mark Fritz addresses the issue of increased restrictions on older drivers, and a developing backlash against this trend. ("Older Drivers Fight to Stay on the Road," March 26, 2006). The article addresses public safely concerns and the rights of older Americans to retain their privilege drive, considered by some seniors to be the most important sign of their independence.

There are over 20 million drivers age 70 and older, with that number expected to increase to 30 million by 2030. Unfortunately, drivers age 85 and older now exceed 16-year-olds in the number of fatalities per mile driven, and they almost match teenage drivers in rates of insurance claims for property damage. With no national standards for driver licensing, states have been developing their own policies with respect to licensing of senior drivers. Seniors who have lost their licenses are hiring lawyers, getting therapy to prepare for road tests, and being coached to pass written tests. Harold Kocken, senior director of driver licensing for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, said that some older drivers are using false licenses in order to stay on the road.

Some incidents have prompted legislatures to enact tougher laws with respect to older drivers. In St. Petersburg, Florida, last October, a 93-year-old man drove up to a toll booth, apparently oblivious to the fact that the dead body of a pedestrian that he had hit down the road was embedded in his windshield. As a result of this incident, two Florida lawmakers proposed legislation that would require physicians to report to the state licensing authorities those people age 75 and older who may be unfit to drive. Advocacy groups for seniors (including AARP in Florida) were successful in removing the age requirement in the proposed bill. Many advocacy groups oppose testing requirements based on age. Questions exist regarding the best way to identify dangerous drivers. Virginia currently requires drivers age 80 and older to submit to a vision test.

Some attorneys have now started specialty practices in assisting seniors retain their driving privileges. Attorney Rock O. Kendall of California says he charges a flat fee of $2,000 to handle such cases, averaging about 200 cases per year. He turns away one in every ten potential clients, taking only cases in which the driver has a good chance at getting his or her license back. Mr. Kendall acknowledges that it is up to the Department of Motor Vehicles to ultimately decide which drivers are safe to return to the road. He says he isn’t putting incompetent drivers back on the road, but that he gives people who feel they have been wronged the legal tools to regain their licenses. Mr. Kendall has referred some clients to a driver rehabilitation program run by a local medical facility. These programs are emerging at medical facilities nationwide to accept referrals from doctors or family members concerned about their aging family members who still drive. Allison Walz, the program director at the rehabilitation center run by St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, California, says that “therapists and trainers are merciless about weeding out drivers who shouldn’t return to the road.” Some of Mr. Kendall’s clients are granted special instructional driving permits in order to give them six months with professional instructors and family members prior to scheduling a road test.

There will continue to be conflicts between public safety and the rights of seniors to drive, especially until there are better methods to assess which drivers pose the most risks. This issue will continue to grow in importance as the numbers of senior drivers on the road increases. The Estate Planning and Elder Law Firm will continue to monitor this issue and will report developments in Virginia law as they occur.


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The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C.

The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. is an elder law firm. We represent older persons, disabled persons, their families, and their advocates. The practice of elder law includes estate planning, estate and trust administration, powers of attorney, advance medical directives, titling of assets and designations of beneficiaries, guardianships, conservatorships, and public entitlements such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and SSI, disability planning, income tax planning and preparation, care management, and fiduciary services. For more information about The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., please visit our website at http://www.chroniccareadvocacy.com.

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This newsletter is not intended as a substitute for legal counsel. While every precaution has been taken to make this newsletter accurate, we assume no responsibility for errors, omissions, or damages resulting from the use of the information in this newsletter. The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. thanks the law firm of Hook Law Center for their input to this newsletter.

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