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Elderly Drivers: Knowing When It’s Time to Give Up the Keys

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Driving in a sign of independence for people living in the United States, no matter how old they are. Although there are more drivers over 70 on the nation’s roads today, they are involved in collisions less often than they used to be, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Many seniors don’t want to admit that they should no longer be driving, and are not willing to give up their driver’s licenses. But older drivers can be vulnerable on the road for any of the following reasons:

  • Physical, cognitive, and visual abilities all decline as people age.
  • Many older drivers are on medications that can impair their driving ability.
  • Vision and hearing impairments can make elderly drivers more prone to angle crashes, merging collisions, and accidents at intersections.
  • Neck pain or stiffness can limit range of motion and make it hard for seniors to look over their shoulder to change lanes or check for pedestrians.
  • Reaction times naturally slow down with age.
  • Memory problems can cause them to get lost, even while taking familiar routes.

How States Regulate Older Drivers

States vary greatly in how they treat older drivers. In Colorado, the length of a regular driver’s license renewal cycle is 10 years, but drivers age 61 and older must renew every five years. Additionally, those age 66 and older cannot renew electronically, but can renew via mail as long as a licensed physician or optometrist certifies that they passed a vision test within the last six months. No Colorado driver can renew by mail or electronically if their prior renewal was done in one of those ways.

Although 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. Illinois requires a road test for all drivers 75 years old and older. Two states actually put fewer restrictions on older drivers — in Tennessee, drivers over age 65 are not required to renew their license, and in North Carolina, drivers 60 and older do not have to parallel park in the road-test portion of the renewal.

Older Drivers in Colorado Support Age-Based Retesting

A 2011 study conducted by the University of Colorado School of Medicine surveyed 122 elderly people and found that 71 percent supported mandatory, age-based driver retesting, and the majority said they believed a family member or doctor, not the police, should decide whether or not a person is still fit to drive.

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