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Few adults enjoy seeing the signs of aging. Our vision and hearing weakens and reflexes slow. Coping and correcting problems, by using glasses or contacts, can help. However, many drivers reach an age and condition where it isn’t safe to keep driving.
This age and stage is different for everyone. There’s no uniform law to mandate drivers give up their licenses at a set age. US driving laws aim to strike a balance between public safety and respecting individual drivers and their health and abilities.
Whether you’re a driver or concerned about an aging driver in your family, know what limits state laws may place on older drivers. Also know about signs of unsafe driving and strategies to help yourself or an older driver you care for stay safe on the road.
Laws Related to Older Drivers
Rules related to older drivers vary by state.
About a third of the states have laws shortening license renewal periods for older drivers:
- Arizona: Every 5 years for drivers 65 and older
- Colorado: Every 5 years for drivers 61 and older
- Florida: Every 6 years for drivers 80 and older
- Georgia: Every 5 years for drivers 60 and older
- Hawaii: Every 2 years for drivers 72 and older
- Idaho: Every 4 years for drivers 63 and older
- Illinois: Every 2 years for drivers 81 to 86; annually for drivers 87 and older
- Indiana: Every 3 years for drivers 74-85; every 2 years once you’re 85
- Iowa: Every 2 years for drivers 70 and older
- Kansas: Every 4 years for drivers 65 and older
- Maine: Every 4 years for drivers 65 and older
- Missouri: Every 3 years for drivers 70 and older
- Montana: Every 4 years for drivers 75 and older
- New Mexico: Annually for drivers 75 and older
- North Carolina: Every 5 years for drivers 54 and older
- Rhode Island: Every 2 years for drivers 75 and older
- South Carolina: Every 5 years for drivers 65 and older
- Texas: Every 2 years for drivers 85 and older
In addition to shorter renewal periods, many states have other rules affecting license renewal. Once you hit a threshold age, you may not be able to renew by mail or online, for example. Added vision testing may start as young as age 40. A few states, including Illinois, New Hampshire and North Carolina require older drivers to take a road test.
Signs of Unsafe Driving
If you’re concerned about your driving abilities, or those of your spouse, a family member or a friend, watch for signs of unsafe driving. These include:
- Failure to follow traffic rules
- Getting lost on familiar roads
- Slow reactions
- Loss of perception of other vehicles, bikes, pedestrians and obstacles
- Traffic accidents and tickets
Know what to do if you see any of these signs, or think a driver’s medical condition poses a risk. You can talk to the driver, or ask their doctor for help.
The American Medical Association (AMA) recommends that doctors evaluate a patient’s mental and physical abilities in reviewing fitness to drive.
If a doctor believes there’s a risk, the AMA suggests doctors first talk to their patient and family about those risks. This doesn’t mean a driver must stop driving. Therapy, such as improving vision may help. Changing driving habits and limiting driving is another answer. Older drivers may readily agree to limits such as local daytime driving.
If a patient refuses the doctor’s advice, then the AMA encourages doctors to report the driver to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). A doctor should tell their patient before giving notice, and about the duty and obligation to do so.
In some states, doctors must report unsafe drivers to the state’s DMV. State law may require DMV notice if a driver has a certain medical condition, such as epilepsy. For example, Washington, D.C., requires a physician’s certification that older drivers are physically and mentally fit to drive.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can I ask the state to revoke an elderly relative’s license?
- What happens if I know my spouse shouldn’t drive and there’s an accident? Can I be found liable?
- How do disclosure or reporting laws affect doctor-patient confidentiality?