By Kathleen Murphy
Staff Writer, Stateline.org
As the nations population ages, states are looking for
ways to weed out people who shouldn't drive.
Half the states have passed some form of elderly driver restrictions,
usually laws that require older motorists to renew licenses
more often and have their vision checked.
But while states have little trouble imposing special driving
limits on accident-prone teenagers, such as limiting the number
of passengers, imposing road restrictions on elderly drivers
poses difficult policy-making challenges. Among the issues
are how to avoid age discrimination and how to assess driving
Drivers over age 75 had a higher rate of fatal accidents
nationwide in 2001 and 2002 than any age group except for
teenagers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway
Safety. The problem of fatal elderly crashes is expected to
grow because by 2024, one in four U.S. drivers will be over
age 65, according to the National Older Driver Research and
Last summer an 87-year-old California man killed 10 pedestrians
when he drove through an open-air market. The crash got national
attention and prompted calls across the country for legislation,
but state lawmakers have found no easy fix.
This year Florida began requiring vision tests for drivers
over age 80. Virginia will require vision tests for octogenarians
starting July 1.
Most state restrictions on older drivers focus on license
renewal, not road rules. Only Illinois and New Hampshire require
a road test for applicants over age 75.
Fifteen states -- Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois,
Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Montana,
New Mexico, Rhode Island and South Carolina -- require accelerated
license renewal for older drivers. Illinois, for example,
requires drivers ages 81 to 86 to renew their license every
two years instead of the usual four, and drivers over 87 must
Renewal-by-mail is not an option for drivers over 70 in Arizona,
California, Illinois, Louisiana and New Hampshire.
Some state licensing laws prohibit treating people differently
based on advanced age. Maryland, Nevada and Minnesota specify
that age alone is not grounds for re-examination. But in Nevada,
applicants for renewal-by-mail over age 70 must include a
This year the Hawaii Legislature is considering a study to
look at banning driving after a certain age and toughening
license renewal requirements. The Senate resolution also would
direct the attorney general to resolve whether targeting older
drivers constitutes age discrimination.
In New Jersey, where no laws limit older drivers, a Senate
bill would devote $3 million to creating senior citizen safe
driving health centers, that would offer hospital-based
medical and diagnostic services to improve older peoples
driving capacity. The centers would assess the need for a
seniors car to be modified by adjusting brakes, mirrors,
seating and steering. The bill also would offer auto insurance
premium reductions for three years to older drivers who complete
a safe driving program.
Not all states are tightening restrictions. Indiana dropped
a road test requirement for older drivers in 1998 after its
Bureau of Motor Vehicles decided it didn't have the authority
to single out older Hoosiers.
In most states, elderly drivers decide when to hand over
the keys, and often its voluntary. Already one in five
Americans over 65 -- more than 7 million people -- are non-drivers,
according to the Department of Transportation.
Lisa D'Ambrosio, research associate at AgeLab at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, said, The car represents freedom.
Drivers generally voluntarily make changes and reduce their
driving so they can continue to drive safely.
Some elderly drivers face a slowdown in response time, lose
clarity in vision and hearing, have decreased muscle strength
and flexibility, and may suffer drowsiness from medications.
But predicting problem drivers isn't an exact science, despite
researchers' efforts to develop assessment systems, said Sandra
Rosenbloom, director of the Roy P. Drachman Institute for
Land and Regional Development Studies at the University of
"Theres no proof that training sessions help.
Testing practices at the state level are idiosyncratic. The
Holy Grail is a cheap test, Rosenbloom said.
Besides, forcing older people off the roads and onto sidewalks
is dangerous because elderly walkers are more likely to be
killed as pedestrians than as motorists, Rosenbloom said.
With most elderly Americans living in the suburbs or rural
areas, public transportation often isnt an answer, said
Jane Hardin, a specialist on senior transportation at the
Community Transportation Association of America.
A good model of elderly transportation is the Sunshine Bus
Co. of St. Augustine, Fla., sponsored by the citys commission
on aging, that offers rides to older people, Hardin said.
"If we don't want older people to drive, we need to
provide them options," Hardin said.