Should There Be a Driving Age Limit for Seniors?

You took driver's education in high school, but that was decades ago. Does this mean you'll have to do it again when you're 60?

By Deborah Lambeth

In most states, when you are 16 years old, you can get behind the wheel of a car and begin training to be a driver. Your instructor goes through the basics of keeping you focused on the road, using turn signals, monitoring your speed, showing you different ways to park, turn around, and what to do in case of an accident - just to name a few. Usually you take a class that encompasses the different laws for your state, how to apply for a license, etc. Your license indicates that you have been trained in the "ways of the road" and are ready to go. You've learned how to use your signals, the importance of going the speed limit, and the value of keeping your eyes on the road (in front of you and behind you).

It's funny how driving accountability changes when a person starts getting older. People tend to assume since someone has been driving for many years, that they're still okay to drive. This may not be the case. Reaction time can be slower in older adults, it may be difficult for older adults to abide by the speed limit (going too fast or going too slow), distance perception can be skewed, and physically they may be limited in their ability to maneuver the car.

Given these concerns, should there be an age limitation for licensing older drivers or a different type of licensing standard? Other than checking their eyes and knowledge of signs, there usually isn't a driving test given to adults. Some states are now thinking that it might be useful to conduct road tests when adults reach a certain age or shorten the time between license renewals. There are some states that have in place different licensing requirements for older drivers. Requiring people over 60 years old to appear in person to renew their license is the law in some states. Other states are taking a proactive stance and have shortened the period of time between renewals. Illinois, for example, requires drivers ages 81-86 to renew every two years and anyone 87 and older has to renew every year. Vision testing is also done at the time of renewal.

According to the National Safety Commission, statistics are showing that 15-24 year olds continue to be the drivers where most fatalities occur. Between 1997-2206, there were more drivers on the road over the age of 70 but the fatality rate was on 21% compared with the other groups of adult drivers. Some of the reasons for the low percentage of fatalities may be that older adults tend to drive newer cars, they aren't on the road for an extended period of time, and the healthcare of older adults has become better.

Given the statistics, it's pretty safe to say that older drivers continue to be better drivers. Granted, there are some drivers in all age categories that need to be off the road! However, with the adjustments that are being made on the requirements for senior citizens to renew their licenses, hopefully the roads will be somewhat safer.

Ruth Kelly considers upper age limit for drivers

By Miles Goslett

12:01AM BST 22 Jul 2007

An upper age limit for drivers could be imposed under plans being considered by the Government.

Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Transport, is to review the existing rules following calls for restrictions on very elderly drivers.

She will launch a public consultation on the issue, and is understood to favour a tightening of the law if the move has sufficient public support. The Commons Transport Select Committee last week called for the minimum age for holding a full driving licence to be raised from 17 to 18.

Under current rules there is no upper age limit for motorists, although over-70s must pass a medical check every three years in order to keep their licence.

There are 1.5 million drivers over the age of 75 in Britain, including almost 35,000 aged over 90. While older people are known generally for their caution on the road, figures show that almost 11,000 car accidents last year involved drivers in the 70-plus bracket.

The Department for Transport will issue a consultation document on "driver medical licensing" to examine details of the current system. A spokesman said that accident statistics would be a key factor in the debate. He said: "The consultation will explore how the existing system meets the current medical licensing objectives and offer options for change where they may be necessary. We are ruling nothing in, and ruling nothing out."

William Armstrong, a coroner in Norwich, said he backed the plans. This month he presided over the inquest of George Pyman, 92, a motorist with one eye who died after pulling into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

"Imposing an upper limit is something that should be considered as a road safety measure," He said. "I fully accept that there are… civil liberty issues. But there are also road safety issues."

Elderly Drivers

Katie’s Law, effective September 1, 2007, affects the issuance of a driver license (DL), or commercial driver license (CDL), to applicants 85 years of age and older. In addition, this law eliminates the opportunity for renewal by mail, internet or telephone to applicants who are 79 years of age or older.

Katie’s Law does not require applicants 85 years of age or older to automatically take a driving test upon renewal. However, if there is concern regarding the applicant’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle as determined through the observation and/or interview by a Driver License employee, the applicant may be reexamined.

This law changes only the renewal date for persons 79 years of age or older.

Office visit is required to renew driver license.

Must pass the standard vision exam.

Six year expiration date will still be issued to individuals 79 to 84 years of age.

The fees for a driver license, commercial or motorcycle license remain the same.

Applicants registering under the provisions of Chapter 62, CCP must still meet the annual expiration date requirements and pay a $21.00 fee.

This law changes the expiration date and fee for an original or renewal driver license or commercial driver license for persons 85 years of age or older.

Two year expiration date. 

Office visit is required to renew driver license.

Must pass the standard vision exam.

The fee is $9.00 for DL’s and $26.00 for CDL’s.

Appropriate statutory fees for individuals with a motorcycle endorsement are still required in full regardless of the two year expiration date.

Applicants registering under the provisions of Chapter 62, CCP, must still meet the annual expiration date requirements and pay a $21.00 fee.

Age Limit For Older Drivers

By Post Scripts on June 7, 2007 9:17 AM | 4 Comments

by Jack Lee

old_driver.jpgFor the second time in so many days a driver over the age of 80 appears to be the cause of another serious accident, the first accident tragically took the life of a 20 year old college student, the second accident, that happened today, has hospitalized a 63 year old bicyclist. He was struck from behind while riding on the side of the road. Failure to yeild and inattention are suspected as the proximate causes in both accidents. But, it may be more complicated than that, it could be these accidents were a result of age. Maybe it's time to re-examine how we license the elderly.

"After age 80, there is a sharp decline in driving ability, although many drivers continue driving safely. Drivers over 80 are more than twice as likely to be at fault in a fatal collision than the average driver," Evan Nossoff - DMV spokesman.

Driving is a privilage not a right and in each of our lives their comes a time when we must surrender that privilage

due to age, illness or injury. Perhaps it's time that we place an age limit on a drivers license at age 80 and require the elderly driver to for a provisional license good for one year. This would cause all persons turning 80 to demonstrate they are competent to operate a motor vehicle, it would not be to automatically eliminate them from driving. This is a safety issue for them and the public.

A recent DMV study says people 65 and up represent about 12 percent of our licensed drivers, buy they are involved in 17 percent of fatal crashes and cause 60 percent of those.

Currently vehicle code sections, 12812, 12813, and 13800, deal with placing restrictions that range from discretionary to mandatory (required by law). None are age specific. It might be interesting to note that FAA restricts the age of commercial pilots to just 60, so I don't think it's too unreasonable to restrict licensing an automobile driver to 80, with the option of issuing a provisional license with possible restrictions such as no night driving, no freeway driving, etc.

This is from the DMV, "Research tells us that a senior driver, who is aware that his/her driving skills are diminishing, will often restrict himself or herself. You may have already decided that you don’t like driving on certain roads or at certain times of the day. You may already stay off the freeway or only drive there during the day. These are some self-imposed restrictions that you place on yourself. They are also restrictions that DMV could place on a person’s driver license after a driving test and a discussion with the driver. DMV wants you to keep driving for as long as it is safe to do so. With a restricted driver license, you may be able to continue driving."

What do you think? Is age 80 a reasonable age to require cognitive and reflex testing to insure competency in addition to the normal driving skills? I bet you folks are thinking, there are plenty of younger drivers that ought to be re-examined and while that may be true, there is a proceedure for that already, but not for the elderly and thats our focus here for their protection and ours.

According to a CNN article, "Eleven states already have age-based renewal requirements and others are reviewing the issue, but they face stiff opposition from one of the country's most powerful lobbies -- senior citizens groups."

DALLAS — As his 90-year-old neighbor struggled last May to set out on a morning drive to the store, David Prager began to worry.

Elizabeth Grimes, a widow who had lived on Meaders Lane for 50 years, had backed out of her driveway, across her lawn and off the curb. Her 1994 Mercury Grand Marquis then hit the curb across the street, Prager recalls, before Grimes mistook the gas pedal for the brake and "took off with a jackrabbit start."

Six blocks away, Grimes drove through a red light. The car slammed into Katie Bolka, a 17-year-old high school junior who was driving to school to take an algebra test. Five days later, Bolka died.

The crash was emblematic of what health and safety analysts say is likely to be an increasing problem as the elderly population booms: aging drivers, clinging to the independence that cars give them but losing their ability to operate the vehicles, causing more accidents.

Fatality rates for drivers begin to climb after age 65, according to a recent study by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, based on data from 1999-2004. From ages 75 to 84, the rate of about three deaths per 100 million miles driven is equal to the death rate of teenage drivers. For drivers 85 and older, the fatality rate skyrockets to nearly four times higher than that for teens.

The numbers are particularly daunting at a time when the U.S. Census Bureau projects there will be 9.6 million people 85 and older by 2030, up 73% from today. Road safety analysts predict that by 2030, when all baby boomers are at least 65, they will be responsible for 25% of all fatal crashes. In 2005, 11% of fatal crashes involved drivers that old.

Debates over how to prepare for a boom in elderly drivers are resonating in statehouses across the nation — including Texas, where Bolka's death has inspired the Legislature to pass a measure that could lead to more frequent vision tests and behind-the-wheel exams for drivers 79 and older.

The only measure scientifically proven to lower the rate of fatal crashes involving elderly drivers is forcing the seniors to appear at motor vehicle departments in person to renew their licenses, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), citing a 1995 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

But most states do not require older drivers to renew licenses in person, and only two — Illinois and New Hampshire — require them to pass road tests, which can be crucial in identifying drivers whose physical ability or mental awareness has diminished.

States have tried a range of approaches, but for the most part they have struggled to establish precise standards for determining when seniors should be kept off the road while being fair to older drivers who remain capable.

State laws are inconsistent on the issue, according to the IIHS, which researches factors that cause crashes. Most state driver's license laws require basic eye exams but typically cannot detect a driver's diminished physical capacity and cognitive awareness.No state has an age limit on drivers.

"It's a huge problem, and we really don't have any solutions to it yet," says Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. "We need to keep moving on it and try to find solutions as quickly as possible."

Safety and health specialists are especially concerned about drivers 85 and older, who, federal crash statistics show, are involved in three fatal accidents a day.

"You always hear about teenage (driver) risks being so incredibly high, but to me the amazing thing is there are two clusters you really have to focus on": teens and elderly drivers, says Paul Fischbeck of the Center for the Study and Improvement of Regulation at Carnegie Mellon.

Normal aging causes medical problems that affect driving. Reflexes, flexibility, visual acuity, memory and the ability to focus all decline with age. Medicines that treat various ailments also make it more difficult to focus and make snap decisions.

Elderly drivers are less likely than other drivers to be in crashes involving high speeds or alcohol, but they are more likely to crash at intersections where they miss a stop sign or turn left in front of oncoming traffic.

"Where single-vehicle rollovers can be described as a young person's crash, side impact appears to be an old person's crash," National Highway Traffic Safety Administration researchers Rory Austin and Barbara Faigin wrote in a 2003 study of crash occupants published in the Journal of Safety Research.

Crashes shine a spotlight

Even so, a series of incidents involving elderly drivers in the past few years has fueled the debate over how to deal with the risks they can pose. Among them:

•George Russell Weller, then 86, killed 10 people and injured more than 70 when he drove his Buick Le Sabre into a crowded farmers market in Santa Monica, Calif., on July 16, 2003.

His attorneys explained that Weller had confused his car's accelerator for the brake. He was convicted of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.

A judge ruled that Weller was too ill to be imprisoned and sentenced him to probation and $101,700 in penalties. The case fueled a nationwide debate over how elderly drivers should be screened.

•Brian Fay, 19, was making change for a customer at a Sears store in Orlando on Oct. 9 when he heard what he thought was a bomb. Fay looked toward the store entrance and saw a pane of glass shatter and fall to the floor. Then he "looked down and saw (a) car barreling" toward him.

Elizabeth Jane Baldick, 84, drove her car into the cash register counter Fay was using, knocking him over. Bleeding, he rushed to check on Baldick, whose car had come to rest against a concrete pillar. Her foot was still pressed firmly against the accelerator, the tires screeching against the tiles on the floor.

Florida revoked Baldick's driving privileges in December, citing medical reasons, says Kim Miller of the Florida Highway Patrol.

The Grimes accident in Dallas is typical of many crashes involving elderly drivers, health and safety specialists say: It involved someone who was reluctant to give up her car keys, and who drove mostly on familiar roads near her home.

Elinor Ginzler, AARP's director of livable communities, says the elderly can "suffer because they are stuck at home" after giving up their keys. So they drive for as long as they can by going only where they must as their skills diminish.

"Many elderly drivers do what we call 'self-regulate,' " says Ginzler, whose association for seniors encourages its members to assess when they should give up driving. "They only drive the places that they know, on familiar roads, at certain times of the day."

As long as a driver can navigate such trips safely, "those are very, very good decisions to be making," she says. "Making a decision (not to) drive at night anymore is terrific. It means you recognize this isn't safe anymore."

AARP offers a Driver Safety Program at sites around the country and online.

The program is an eight-hour class for drivers 50 and older that deals with the effects of aging on driving. The organization's website, aarp.org, also offers advice for seniors and their adult children on how to stay safe.

Most elderly drivers decide to stop driving themselves. More than 600,000 drivers age 70 and older decide to give up driving each year, according to a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

That's partly why insurance rates usually are only slightly higher for drivers 75 or older — and far lower than such rates for teenage drivers. Insurance analysts say the car insurance industry does not see a big liability threat from the rising number of elderly drivers because such drivers hurt themselves more than others and tend to stop driving on their own.

"When they realize they are driving in dangerous conditions they generally stop doing it," says Carolyn Gorman, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute, based in New York City.

"The industry views them as pretty much a self-policing group. Many elderly drivers do not drive at night. Many will make three right-hand turns instead of one left-hand turn."

Grimes, who died Jan. 15 from what Dallas County medical examiner Richard Baer says were complications from a stroke and old age, had cooked her own meals, cleaned her house and mowed her lawn — which she called her therapy.

Through their attorney, her family members declined to discuss her driving. But Grimes said after the crash that she frequently had made short trips around her neighborhood.

"I'm not going at any high rate of speed because I'm here, there and yonder along the way," she said about three months after the crash in a videotaped deposition for a lawsuit filed by Bolka's family. "This is my area."

Grimes' family members say they suspect she had a mild stroke the night before the crash that fatally injured Bolka, and the stroke caused a sudden decline in Grimes' ability to drive safely.

The lawsuit filed by the Bolkas was settled on Sept. 14 for an undisclosed amount.

Harsha says no state has a good "early warning system" when it comes to identifying elderly drivers in declining health.

The burden rests on spouses, family members, doctors and police to request that a license be revoked. Appealing for a state to revoke someone's driver's license on medical grounds is a cumbersome process, and such requests are rare.

What states are doing

Twenty-three states require licensed drivers of a certain age to appear periodically at a department of motor vehicles office to renew their license. In 16 states, older drivers must prove that they can see well enough to drive. Some states have tried other ways to identify drivers who, because of age-related health problems, put themselves or others at risk.

But the IIHS says such efforts have failed to accurately predict the risk an elderly driver may pose.

Without precise measures, analysts estimate that 500 good drivers would have to be taken off the road to prevent a single crash. Among states' efforts to restrict elderly drivers:

California tested a three-tiered pilot plan for assessing drivers of all ages that included a driving knowledge test, cognitive screening and vision tests. People who failed the first tiers had to pass a road test. The 2003 study of 152 drivers did not predict who would go on to have a crash.

•Maryland conducted a study that found drivers who performed poorly on certain cognitive tests — such as following basic commands and repeating simple movements — were about 25% more likely than others to go on to cause a crash. Results of the study of 1,910 drivers ages 55 to 96 were published in January 2006 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Maryland now uses such screening on a regular basis with drivers whose actions raise concerns about their cognitive abilities.

•Florida's requirement that drivers 80 and older pass a vision test resulted in the loss of a license for about 7% of elderly drivers seeking renewal, according to a study by the IIHS.

But nearly 20% of those 80 and older who needed to renew their license told researchers they decided to give up driving because they did not think they could pass the vision test.

"We don't know for sure if any of these (efforts) will prevent fatal crashes," says Russ Rader of the IIHS.

"But having drivers go in person for renewal allows the examiner to see the person and spot impairments. That can be effective."

'I did it. I'm terribly sorry'

David Prager, Grimes' former neighbor in Dallas, says there was little he could do to keep her off the road. "There was no way Mrs. Grimes was going to stop driving," Prager says.

Grimes said in her deposition — taken in the nursing home where she went after suffering two broken ankles in the accident that killed Bolka — that she "never had a reason until now" to discuss giving up her car.

Just before the fatal crash, Grimes' car had suffered front-end damage after an accident in a parking lot at the same intersection where Grimes struck Bolka.

"I had it repaired," she said in her deposition. "Everything was happy."

Bolka's family members say they pushed the Texas Legislature to pass the bill toughening the state's laws on bad elderly drivers because they believe states should be more aggressive in keeping such drivers off the road.

Right now, "the first level of defense is the driver," says Rick Bolka, Katie's father. "The second level of defense is the (driver's) family. The third level of defense is the (driver's) physician. We would like to see the state become the first level of defense. The government has a responsibility to protect its citizens."

Texas Sen. John Corona, R-Dallas, the Bolkas' state senator, said during a recent hearing that his mother "is blind, and they just renewed her license by mail."

The bill, which is scheduled to be signed soon by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, would require drivers 79 and older to appear in person for renewals and subject them to mandatory vision tests and behind-the-wheel exams if officials have any question about their driving ability. Drivers 85 and older would be required to renew every two years.

During his deposition of Grimes, the Bolka family's attorney, Peter Malouf, asked Grimes whether she understood that she had crashed into a young girl's car and killed her.

"I'm aware of that very sad story, yes," Grimes said. "Sure I did it. I'm terribly sorry. But I did it."

Malouf asked whether there was anything she would like to say to the family.

"What is there to say to people who have been hurt?" Grimes said. "That's best left alone, I think."