After a certain birthday, are you considered “safe” to drive? The answer may depend on where you live.
A recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) report shows license renewal requirements for senior drivers vary widely from state to state. For example, 20 states require shorter renewal periods for drivers above a certain age. Eighteen states require more frequent vision screening and, among those states that allow renewal by mail or online (of which Washington is one), some limit the option for senior drivers.
The range of requirements is striking. Some states including New York, Ohio, and Minnesota make no distinction based on age. Contrast that with Illinois, where license applicants older than 75 must take a road test at every renewal. In all states, licensing agencies have the authority to go beyond standard procedures if an applicant’s appearance, demeanor, or history of crashes raises concerns. They also may rely on medical review boards to advise on licensing standards in general or for individuals.
Washington and Oregon’s guidelines fall somewhere in the middle. Washington does not permit mail or online renewal for drivers age 70 and older. In Oregon, which requires in-person renewal for all drivers, people over age 50 must take a vision test at renewal.
As a group, senior drivers are good stewards of their abilities behind the wheel and many voluntarily limit driving after dark and in bad weather, for example, to ensure they stay safe.
IIHS notes that among states with special requirements for older drivers, the vision test and in-person renewals work to reduce fatality rates (and even then, only among drivers age 85 and older). For drivers over 55, requirements such as shorter licensing intervals, road tests, and knowledge tests haven’t reduced fatalities compared to states without the additional requirements. IIHS notes that currently, no driver screening test can, with sufficient accuracy, identify people at high risk of crashing without falsely identifying other drivers who are not at high risk. See an older-driver Q and A.