By Aaron Crowe
Just as graduated driver licensing keeps teens safe by not allowing them to drive late at night and earn driving privileges gradually, would it also work for elderly drivers?
Elderly people drive a lot less than teenage drivers do. Still, per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase at age 75 and increase notably after age 80, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These deaths are largely due to increased susceptibility to injury and medical complications among older drivers, rather than an increased tendency to get into crashes, according to the CDC.
Would taking away an elderly driver’s driving privileges gradually lessen the amount of crashes they get into? Will not allowing them to drive at night, for example, when it can be more difficult to see the road, result in fewer accidents by elderly drivers? Or a mandated annual driving test?
The good news is that elderly drivers often self regulate their driving habits. Older drivers tend to limit their driving during bad weather and at night, and drive fewer miles than younger drivers, the CDC says.
Driving is a privilege
One basic argument against gradually taking away an elderly driver’s license is that driving is an earned privilege, and “once a test is passed, not a good idea to second guess it,” says Bonnie Russell, who writesabout retirement in California.
But state Departments of Motor Vehicles have the authority to determine if someone can drive safely, and can retest them as they deem necessary. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, recommends states require elderly drivers renew their licenses in person, says Susan Cohen, founder of Americans For Older Driver Safety, or AFODS.
The requirement could stop some unsafe drivers from coming in for their license renewal, and could help eliminate elderly drivers who are too impaired to drive.
“We want older adults to stay on the road as long as they’re safe,” Cohen says.
Another thing to keep in mind when considering taking away an older driver’s license to drive in stages is that two 80-year-olds can have different driving abilities, she says. You can’t judge someone’s driving ability by age alone. “We each age very differently from another,” she says.
Russell says she’s seen drivers well past age 80 who are safe drivers. “My dad is 92 and still driving without a problem,” she says, “and his neighbor just got his license renewed for three years — when he’s 103.”
License renewal laws for older drivers vary by state, with 28 states and the District of Columbia having provisions for older drivers, according to AFODS. Several require in-person renewal and a shorter renewal period for older drivers.
Illinois, for example, sets the standard renewal at four years, but increases it to every two years at age 81 and annually at 87 years old. Iowa requires a renewal every two years beginning at age 70, and at five years for younger drivers.