Topeka — Every three years, Donna Erickson takes AARP's safe driving course to keep current on the changes in the laws of the road, as well as the roads themselves.
"There are more roundabouts," said the 83-year-old Erickson, of Topeka. "We didn't have them a few years ago."
The class reminds her, she said, that laws change — and so do drivers as they age.
As baby boomers age but stay behind the wheel, more elderly drivers are on the roads, both in Kansas and nationally. The issue of older drivers has emerged again after a 100-year-old driver backed over a group of Los Angeles schoolchildren last month. The federal government has proposed that states take a look at the safety of older drivers.
In Kansas, residents aged 65 and older must renew their licenses every four years instead of every six.
Kansas Department of Vehicle officials say there are no plans to seek changes in driving laws for seniors. Examiners already have the authority to add restrictions to a license, such as limiting how far they can drive, whether they can only drive in the daytime and whether they should stay off highways.
According to Kansas Department of Transportation data, there were 41,114 accidents involving drivers age 65 and older between 2007 through 2011. On average, there was one fatality accident for every 113 accidents involving senior citizens. The frequency of fatality accidents was highest among those aged 90 to 94, one for every 46.8 accidents.
AARP Kansas offers a number of programs for older drivers, including the "We Need to Talk" course for children faced with taking the keys away from their parents.
"Adult children of older drivers want to see that their parents are safe on the road," said Mary Tritsch, an assistant state AARP director. Tritsch said AARP wants to expand the course across Kansas. Parts of it are incorporated in other courses that teach older residents how to adjust to the reality that their bodies are changing.
"Driving is so individual. You can't say that a 70-year-old driver is going to be worse than a 25- or 30-year-old driver," Tritsch said.
The Kansas Department of Transportation plans to spend $22 million on public transit programs over the next two years. Tritsch said she would like to see Kansas to develop more transit alternatives for residents, especially in rural areas.
"It really is the backbone of KDOT's recognition that once elderly residents are no longer able to drive, the ability to get out in the community pays dividends," said Josh Powers, KDOT's public transit manager said.
Erickson knows there are alternatives for her, but for now she does what she can to stay behind the wheel and maintain her independence.
"That's probably the hardest thing about getting older," she said, "just that ability to jump in the car and when I want to."