According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were more than 40 million licensed drivers in the U.S. age 65 and older in 2015.
Driving is a sign of independence and also a privilege afforded to individuals who have a license and the skills to safely operate a motor vehicle. Unfortunately, however, the risk of being injured or killed in an accident is greater as drivers grow older. Research indicates that older drivers outlive their ability to drive safely by an average of seven to 10 years.
Older Drivers More Vulnerable to Car Accidents
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 may be more vulnerable to accidents than other motorists for any or all 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 deficiencies can make older drivers more likely to be involved in auto accidents while merging or at intersections.
- Neck pain or stiffness can limit an older person’s range of motion when changing lanes or checking for pedestrians.
- Reaction times naturally get slower with age.
- Memory problems can cause them to get lost, even while taking familiar routes.
Interestingly, there are more drivers over 70 on the nation’s roads today, but they are involved in collisions less often than they used to be, according to a report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
How States Regulate Older Drivers
States vary greatly in how they treat older drivers, but all states maintain an office where a referral about an unsafe driver can be made by a family member or a doctor. The state of Illinois requires a road test for all drivers 75 and older.
Two states actually put fewer restrictions on older drivers:
- In Tennessee, drivers over age 65 are not required to renew their licenses.
- In North Carolina, drivers 60 and older do not have to parallel park in the road test portion of the renewal.
Senior Drivers in Colorado
In Colorado, older drivers must comply with a number of requirements to obtain and keep their licenses, including:
- Drivers 60 and older are required to renew their licenses every five years in person at a local Department of Motor Vehicles office.
- Most seniors will be asked to take a basic vision test to prove that they can see well enough to safely operate a motor vehicle.
- A family member, a medical technician, or a law enforcement officer can request re-examination of an elderly driver.
- Some older drivers may enroll in a driving refresher course offered by AARP and I Drive Safely.
- Restrictions can be placed on an older person’s driver license if they have poor vision or limited skills regarding memory and coordination.
In cooperation with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the University of Colorado is participating in LongROAD, an ongoing senior cohort study following 3,000 aging baby boomers from Colorado, California, Maryland, Michigan, and New York to examine their driving patterns, health, transportation needs, and the circumstances surrounding when and why they decide to give up driving.