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Older Drivers Among Fastest Growing Population On Roads

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RALEIGH, N.C. — In North Carolina, more than 50,000 drivers on the road are 85 or older, which happens to be the fastest growing group of drivers in the country. Any time you talk about restricting their freedom, you are driving into a complicated debate.

One month shy of her 85th birthday, Margaret High renewed her driver's license.

"Having a driver's license does give me a freedom," she said.

High's new license is good until her 90th birthday. Under North Carolina law, all drivers are tested the same regardless of their age. Although she is very active, a champion swimmer in the state Senior Games, High welcomes closer monitoring of drivers her age.

"Maybe you can have them come in every two years and before the time they come, let the doctors say they're OK," she said.

Three years ago, 84-year-old Sara Bell Kennedy backed into a group of students at Smithfield Middle School,

killing one and injuring others

. Investigators ruled the crash a tragic accident and Kennedy kept her license until she died earlier this year.

On Wednesday, police say 86-year-old Russell Weller was behind the wheel of a car that plowed through a crowded farmer's market in California, killing nine people and injuring dozen of others.

"Accidents [and] problems can occur at any age," said Bob Jackson, director of North Carolina's AARP. "We're not opposed to some tests by age if accompanied by evidence of risk and risk factors."

Statistics from the

National Highway Traffic Safety Association

show drivers over 65 are involved in the fewest number of crashes per driver. Officials say they drink and drive less and wear seatbelts the most. On the other hand, aside from teenagers, older drivers have the highest rate of fatal crashes. Some health studies estimate half of people 85 and older have some form of dementia, like Alzheimer's disease.

Under the law, the state Division of Motor Vehicles can intervene if family members or doctors raise questions about a driver's health. The DMV has considered a plan to shorten the license renewal time for older drivers from five to three years. Officials are looking into more comprehensive testing. Changes or not, they urge all older drivers to take driving safety classes.

North Carolina is one of a few states that requires drivers who are 50 and older to take a vision test every five years. Only two states, Illinois and New Hampshire, mandate actual driving tests.


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