A recent string of high-profile accidents involving older drivers has stirred up the decades-old debate: How old is too old to drive? Of course there’s no definitive answer — it depends on how physically and cognitively healthy someone remains. But it also depends on where you live: An Associated Press review found a “hodgepodge” of state rules governing older drivers.
Overall, 30 states plus the District of Columbia have some sort of special rules in place regarding older adults and driver’s licenses. In some, seniors are required to renew licenses more frequently than younger drivers; in others, more extensive vision testing is required. The age at which these requirements kick in varies greatly — in Texas, shorter license renewals kick in at 85; in Georgia, at age 59.
Here’s a look at a few state requirements in more detail:
• Illinois rules are among the most strict. Starting at age 75, drivers must take a road test with every driving renewal, and starting at age 81, those renewals are required every two years. At age 87, drivers must renew (and pass a driving test) annually.
• In New Mexico, drivers must renew licences annually starting at age 75.
• In D.C., drivers 70 and up must bring a doctor’s certification that they’re okay to drive each time they renew their license.
• In New Hampshire, road tests were required for all drivers 75 and up until last year, when the law was repealed after an 86-year-old lawmaker called it discriminatory.
• In Iowa, license restrictions are customized: People with certain health conditions may be licensed only for daytime driving or driving within a few miles of home; people with early-stage Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s must renew licenses every year.
• In Colorado, drivers age 66 and up can only renew licenses by mail with a doctor’s or optometrist’s certification that they’ve passed an eye exam within the past six months.
• In Maine, a vision test is required once a driver turns 40, and at every second renewal after that until age 62; beyond that, an eye exam is required at every renewal.
Joseph Coughlin, head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, puts the problem with setting age-based driving requirements succinctly:
Birthdays don’t kill. Health conditions do.”
Older drivers in good health aren’t necessarily any less safe than younger ones, he pointed out. But as the Huffington Post notes:
There’s no easy screening tool that licensing authorities can use to spot people with subtle health risks. So some states use birthdays as a proxy for more scrutiny instead.
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Measured by miles driven, crash rates begin to climb in the 70s, with a sharper jump at age 80, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. But septuagenarians and octogenarians on the whole still fare better teen and 20-something drivers. Only past age 85 do older drivers surpass teens at rate of deadly crashes per mile.
Monday Quick Hits:
• Louis Vuitton’s 83-year-old “It” girl. Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, 83, creates avant-garde videos, lives in a hospital for the mentally ill and recently collaborated with luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton on polka-dotted apparel and accessories.
• Time warp street for dementia patients. In England, The Memory Lane features a 1950s-style post office, grocer, phone booth and pub, along with old tobacco tins, ration books, magazines and newspapers. The street was built on the grounds of a care home for dementia patients.
• Boomer retirees go smaller and cooler. A number of small towns in cooler climate states — Maine, Michigan, Washington — are becoming popular retirement destinations. David Savageau, author of Retirement Places Rated (and a boomer), said that the desert Southwest and Florida were “for our parents; for us it might be somewhere closer to home, a college town, a ski resort or a historical area that gets some kind of tourism in season.”
Photo: Tetra Images/Corbis