We rely heavily on cars in our society; in many places, they are the only convenient link to the outside world. Unfortunately, as people age, driving can become more difficult and more dangerous. The elderly drive less, but have more accidents per mile than younger drivers. This is partially because elderly individuals are more likely to be affected by poor eyesight, chronic disease, and medications that might impair driving.
States vary widely on how they treat older drivers. While no state will revoke a driver’s license based only on the driver’s age, some states put restrictions on license renewals for elderly drivers. Other states do not differentiate based on age, and still others have fewer requirements for older drivers.
The states that put restrictions on license renewals do so in a number of ways. Fourteen states (Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and South Carolina) have accelerated renewal periods for people over a certain age. These periods can vary widely. For example, Colorado requires everyone age 61 and older to renew their license every 5 years as opposed to every 10 years for people under age 61. Illinois has a 4-year renewal period, but the period shortens to 2 years if the driver is between the ages of 81 and 86, and then to 1 year if the driver is age 87 or older.
Six states (Florida, Maine, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia) and the District of Columbia require elderly drives to take a vision test when renewing a license. Another way states monitor older drivers is by not allowing drivers over a certain age to renew their licenses by mail. Five states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Louisiana, and Montana) restrict mail renewals. Finally, two states (Illinois and New Hampshire) require a road test if the driver is 75 years old or older.
While not all states put restrictions on license renewals, all state Departments of Motor Vehicles, Highway Safety, or Transportation have an office where a family member or doctor can make a referral about an unsafe driver. The state office will investigate the claim, and the driver may have to take a road test. Doctors are generally not required to report patients they feel are unsafe. In California, however, doctors must report demented patients and in California, Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Pennsylvania doctors must report patients with epilepsy.
Two states have laws that actually put fewer restrictions on older drivers. In Tennessee, drivers over age 65 do not have to renew their license. In North Carolina, drivers 60 and older are not required to parallel park in the road test.
For information on state laws about older drivers, click here.
For information on confronting an unsafe driver, click here.