More seniors are on the road than ever before, and certain aspects of aging present a traffic safety risk. States have responded by tightening driver’s license requirements for older drivers, and the laws in Illinois are among the strictest in the country.
While age itself does not necessarily affect driving ability, seniors are more likely to have issues with their health that can affect their driving. Illnesses like arthritis and dementia present a risk, as do the use of medications, and slower reaction times. Older drivers are actually involved in fewer collisions than other motorists, because they drive less. But measured by miles driven, there is an increase in crashes after age 70, and an even larger jump after age 80.
The states vary widely in their approaches to regulating older drivers. Twenty states have no restrictions based on age. In the other thirty states and the District of Columbia, there are restrictions ranging from a requirement that seniors renew their licenses more often to additional vision testing. As for the age when the restrictions kick in, that can range from age 40 in Maryland, to age 85 in Texas.
In Illinois, starting at age 75, a driving test is required for each license renewal. Beginning at age 81, renewals must be done every two years, rather than every four. And at age 87, drivers must renew every year.
There are also strict requirements in Washington, D.C., where drivers age 70 and older must have a doctor certify that they are capable of driving safely whenever they renew their licenses. In New Mexico, annual renewals are required beginning at age 75.
There is little consistency among the states. In Iowa, drivers age 70 and older must renew their licenses every two years rather than every five. Meanwhile, Missouri requires renewals for 70-year-olds every three years rather than every six.
National guidelines have been proposed by the National Highway Traffic Administration that would bring some consistency to regulation of older drivers. If finalized, the rules would require each state to institute a safety program for older drivers. Doctors would be protected from legal action if they report drivers they think are unsafe, and driver’s licenses would have to be renewed in person once drivers reach a certain age, which each state would determine individually.
As baby boomers age, the impact on the nation’s traffic safety cannot be ignored. While today there are almost 34 million drivers over the age of 64, it is estimated that that number will jump to 57 million by 2030.