The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that nearly 34 million drivers are 65 and older. By 2030, Federal estimates show there will be about 57 million older drivers, which makes up about a quarter of all licensed drivers. Baby boomers, in particular, are expected to continue driving longer and drive more miles than previous generations.
The issue is not so much the age because getting older doesn’t make someone an unsafe driver, but failing health conditions which are age-related do. Many older drivers have health issues that can impair driving from arthritis to dementia, from slower reflexes to the use of multiple medications, says Joseph Coughlin, head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab. Therefore, states often use birthdays as a proxy for driving scrutiny, in addition to using standardized and objective screening tools that have been validated as significant predictors of older driver crash risk.
Measured by miles driven, the crash rate of older drivers begins to climb in the 70s, with a sharper jump at age 80 according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Only teens and 20-somethings do worse.
Although the number of fatal crashes involving seniors have dropped over the past decade due to safer cars and roads and because seniors are staying a bit healthier longer, seniors 85 and up still have the highest rate of deadly crashes per mile largely because they’re too frail to survive their injuries.
Seniors can be proactive in updating their knowledge with new roadways, traffic laws, and vehicle technology with community or online older driver refresher courses.
Seniors are not the only ones encouraged to take action to improve older driver safety. The Federal government is proposing states to take action to address what the NHTSA calls “the real and growing problem of older driver safety.” The NHTSA has national highway safety guidelines for older drivers that suggest States to become more consistent in regards to licensing older drivers. One of the guidelines include: “having each state to have a centralized data analysis to identify the nature and extent of its older driver safety problems to establish goals and objectives and to implement projects to reach the goals and objectives; In-person renewal requirements for senior drivers over a specific age; medical review policies should align with the Driver Fitness Medical Guidelines published by the NHTSA and American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA).”
Thirty states plus the District of Columbia have some sort of older –age requirement for driver licenses. “While older drivers have lower crash rates reported to the police, the likelihood of seniors being involved in a fatal crash goes up after age 70. Nine states are considering legislation on older driver issues in 2015, with Nevada and Virginia enacting new laws. A number of states considered legislation dealing with medical fitness” to driver according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
Among the strictest states, Illinois requires a road test to check driving skills with every license renewal starting at age 75- and starting at age 81, those renewals are required every two years instead of every four. At 87, Illinois drivers must renew annually. In Washington D.C, starting at age 70, drivers must bring a doctor’s certification stating that they can continue to drive safely every time they renew their license. New Mexico requires annual renewals at 75. When Iowa drivers turn 70, they must renew their license every two years instead of every five. Iowa is leading a growing number of states that customize license restrictions to allow people to stay on the road under certain conditions. People with certain health conditions, for instance may be allowed to drive only during the day or within a few miles of home. Missouri drivers when they turn 70 must renew every three years instead of every six. Massachusetts now require drivers to start renewing licenses in person at age 75, with proof of an eye exam. Drivers should check their state licensing authorities for older-age requirements for driving licenses.
Getting older doesn’t mean that a person’s driving days are over, however, it is important for seniors to plan ahead and take action to ensure that they are driving safely and states should take steps to ensure everyone’s safety on the road.
The Associated Press. (2012, September 17). When is it time to give up the keys? Surge of aging Americans behind the wheel leads government to push states to address ‘real and growing problem’ of senior drivers.
Insure.com. (2015, November 12). Licensing-renewal procedures for elderly drivers.
Matthias Gafni. (2015, October 03). Should older drivers undergo road tests to keep licenses?
Westport News. (2010, March 10). Should elderly drivers be retested?
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (April 2014). Uniform Guidelines for State Highway Safety Programs.
National Conference of State Legislatures. (2015). Traffic Safety Trends.