Elders’ driving is one common concern adult children have regarding their senior parents’ safety . Home Care providers and geriatricians specialized in elder care, often hear the following questions from concerned children: How do I tell Mom or Dad, they cannot drive anymore. Is it safe for them to be driving at their old age? How to stop my parents from driving? and the problem seems to become bigger.
According to the Pew Research Center, 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day for the next eighteen years. By 2030, almost one in five drivers will be over the age of 65, and they’ll outnumber teenage drivers more than three to one. Some experts are calling this the silver tsunami—and it’s not a movement that’s coming peacefully.
Statistically speaking, elderly drivers are involved in more car accidents and highway fatalities than any age group but teenagers. Elderly drivers often have trouble keeping up with traffic on the road, but unfortunately, there’s no easy way to prevent unsafe drivers from getting behind the wheel while still allowing experienced and competent senior drivers to keep driving. Several procedures have been discussed, from mandating vision tests (which isn’t always effective in identifying drivers whose visual impairments raise their accident risk) to issuing restricted licenses that only allow for daytime driving (which might not impact elderly drivers significantly, since they already tend to remain at home). Implementing an age cap on licensing, on the other hand, raises constitutional due process and equal protection concerns, as federally imposed restrictions must not be at odds with the Fourteenth Amendment. Clearly, balancing senior driving rights and safety precautions is a serious concern with few obvious answers. Speeding violations lawyer Zev Goldstein cites a recent study by Katherine Mikel of University of Miami School of Law which sheds light on the subject.
State Testing Initiatives
State governments, rather than federal governments, control driver’s licensing across the United States. States vary widely in how they treat elderly drivers. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have imposed additional requirements for older drivers, ranging from improved vision testing to more frequent license renewal for elderly drivers.
License Renewal Restrictions
No states will revoke a driver’s license based on their age alone. Some states, however, have put additional restrictions on license renewals for elderly drivers. Some states, however, don’t differentiate based on age: they have few or no requirements at all for older drivers. In Tennessee and North Carolina, however, elderly drivers are given more leniency than their younger counterparts: drivers over the age of 65 don’t have to renew their license in Tennessee, while North Carolina drivers over the age of 60 don’t have to parallel park to pass a road test.
States vary on their requirements for older drivers when it comes to renewing their license. Many states institute shorter renewal periods for people over a certain age. These periods, however, can vary widely. In Colorado, individuals over the age of 61 have to renew their license every five years, while those under 61 may renew theirs every ten years. In Illinois, on the other hand, the average driver must renew their license every four years. Between the ages of 81 and 86, this shortens to every 2 years. From the age of 87, drivers must renew their license every year.
Several states have instituted increased testing requirements for elderly drivers. Many of them require a vision test in order to renew a driver’s license. In Illinois, a driver who is 75 years old or older must take a road test. Some states, however, are more lenient than others. In Florida, elderly drivers are able to renew their licenses by mail for up to 12 years before experiencing testing requirements. If they are over the age of 79, Florida drivers must pass a vision test; however, they can submit results from an approved test by an eye doctor or physician by mail. Most states don’t require a road test to renew a license at any age.
Unsafe Driver Referrals
All states may not have restrictions on license renewals, but there are systems in place to help keep unsafe drivers off of the road. In every state, the Departments of Motor Vehicles, Highway Safety, or Transportation have offices where family members or doctors can make referrals concerning unsafe drivers. The state office will investigate the claim, which may lead to the driver needing to take a road test. Doctors don’t have to report unsafe patients. The state of California, however, mandates reporting of patients with dementia; other states require doctors to report patients with epilepsy.
Age Caps on Licensing: Constitutional Concerns
As was previously mentioned, age caps must adhere to the Fourteenth Amendment. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment states that no citizen can be deprived of constitutional rights—including the right to “liberty”—without due process. The Equal Protection Clause protects everyone within the state and insists that no one should be arbitrarily denied any right granted to others. These clauses protect drivers from age discrimination, which means that no arbitrary cap on age can be assigned in order for a person to hold a driver’s license in any state.
Simply put, these amendments protect United States citizens from having their driving privileges arbitrarily revoked. In other words, there can be no “mandatory expiration” of driving privileges after a certain age. States also can not restrict the use of their highways. Like the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, these regulations prevent drivers from experiencing discrimination on the basis of age alone. Because of this, the responsibility falls on each individual senior and/or their adult children to keep an eye out for any changes in driving ability. When they reach an age where it is no longer safe for them to be behind the wheel, it is up to individual families to note the continuing signs of age and prevent their loved ones from endangering themselves and others.
Across the United States, people in every age group tend to view driving as a necessity rather than a privilege. However, there is a significant conflict of interest on the issue of elderly driving. Elderly drivers want to retain personal autonomy—and as seniors lose some of their mobility, it becomes even more imperative for them to retain their independence and ability to get around—but states and other drivers wish to increase safety on the road. As the rise in senior drivers continues, state and federal governments must continue to seek solutions in order to provide the best outcome for everyone.