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Check Your State Laws
Senior Citizen Drivers: Are They Menace? Should
Licensing Laws Be Tougher?
Safety advocates want tougher licensing for seniors
and special vehicles
16, 2005 - Senior citizens not only drive more these days, but have sped
past teenagers as the age group with the highest number of traffic
accidents per mile. Laws on obtaining driver licenses vary widely by
state and at least one out-spoken-author wants them made tougher for
older American drivers, the fastest growing group of drivers.
(See story below this article about state driving laws
for seniors and a link to check on laws in your state.)
There are sobering statistics that highlight the
need for changes in state driver's license renewals to address the risks
that elderly drivers pose to other drivers and themselves, David
Rosenfield writes in the current issue of the Elder Law Journal,
published by the College of Law at the University of Illinois at
The fastest growing segment of the driving
population, seniors make up 9 percent (about 19 million) of the nation's
drivers. This figure is expected to jump to more than 30 million drivers
Drivers aged 75 and older have a 37 percent higher
crash rate than younger drivers, said Rosenfield, an editor at the
journal. And because they are more physically fragile than their younger
counterparts, senior drivers are more likely to be injured in a car
crash. With the exception of teenage drivers, seniors have the highest
probability of death resulting from an auto-related accident of any age
While age alone does not determine a person's
ability to operate an automobile, "evidence suggests that certain
characteristics associated with aging impair driving performance," Rosenfield said.
Perhaps the most serious physical disability is the
decreased ability of an elderly person to see at night. In addition,
studies show that a person's risk evaluation, cognitive capacity and
decision-making abilities often decrease with age, which, along with
motor ability problems and encroaching dementia, can impair driving
To counteract these physical and mental ailments,
many elderly persons take medication.
"In many instances, these medications have adverse
side effects" on their driving skills, Rosenfield wrote. "For example,
benzodiazepines, commonly taken for anxiety and insomnia, may cause
confusion, drowsiness, decreased motor coordination and impaired memory.
To make matters worse, many elderly drivers are often unaware of the
adverse side effects posed by medications."
While all states require some form of visual
testing when a license is first issued to a driver, many states don't
require drivers to undergo vision testing as part of the renewal
Furthermore, no state now requires a mental or
competency test as a prerequisite for obtaining a license renewal once a
person reaches a certain age. While several states require an
application to undergo a mental health examination if notified by a
police officer or relative, the majority of states "do not have any
formal system for requiring a medical examination, but rather only
subject an applicant to such an examination if the applicant appears
mentally unable to operate an automobile."
Rosenfield recommended that a more uniform and
stringent system of license renewals be adopted by state legislatures.
These rules should address the unique problems posed by elderly drivers
"without jeopardizing an elderly person's independence and sense of
dignity." Legislation requiring automobile insurers to offer discounts
to elderly drivers who complete a driver's safety course, for example,
is a step in the right direction.
An alternative solution posed by some experts --
designing automobiles with systems designed specifically to aid seniors
-- has more limitations than advantages at present, according to the U.
of I. scholar.
A major drawback is that new technology, such as
collision warning lights or night vision equipment, "necessarily
requires that elderly drivers learn how to use these new devices."
Current technology also "requires drivers to multitask while driving to
activate the new systems," which presents various physical and mental
barriers to many elderly drivers.
Rosenfield's article is titled,
"From California to Illinois to Florida, Oh My!: The Need for a More
Uniform Driver"s License Renewal Policy."
State Laws Vary Widely - Check Your State
June 16, 2005 - 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.
Click here for state laws
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