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Senior Citizen Drivers: Are They Menace? Should Licensing Laws Be Tougher?

Safety advocates want tougher licensing for seniors and special vehicles

June 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.)


Related Information


Study Implying Young With Cell Phones Drive as Dangerously As Elderly Ignores Facts

By Tucker Sutherland, editor

Feb. 4, 2005 - A research report saying when young drivers "talk on cell phones they drive like elderly people, moving and reacting more slowly and increasing their risk of accidents," obviously did not look at the driver safety records for 2003 released last month, which show older drivers are far less likely to be in an accident than younger drivers. Read more...

See Statistics: 2003 Driver Involvement Rates per 100,000 Licensed Drivers by Age, Sex, and Crash Severity - Click


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 Urbana-Champaign.

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 by 2020.

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 group.

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 performance.

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 process.

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.

About Source:

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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