Aging Drivers and the Law

For better or for worse- our current culture is very car-dependent; in many places- cars 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 crashes 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.  (For information see each state’s license renewal procedures.) 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. Many have accelerated renewal periods for people over a certain age. These periods can vary widely. For example- Arizona requires everyone age 65 and older to renew their license every five years as opposed to every 12 years for people under age 65. Illinois has a 4-year renewal period- but the period shortens to two 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.

Some states require elderly drivers 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. Finally- Illinois requires 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 and a few other states doctors must report patients with epilepsy.