Safe Driving Guide for Seniors and Older Adult Drivers
The Federal Highway Administration reports that nearly 30 million licensed drivers in the U.S. in 2019 were aged 70 and older. There are more senior drivers than ever on the road, and that number is expected to expand due to the large baby boomer population growing older. Driving can help older people stay mobile, independent and connected to their loved ones and communities. Seniors and their loved ones should know how older drivers can stay safe behind the wheel, how to ensure they have the best car insurance to protect them as an older driver and when and how to hang up the keys.
Staying Safe and Maintaining Independence Behind the Wheel
Like all drivers, seniors must maintain safe driving habits. While almost everyone desires independence on the open road, poor health and medications can take their toll on a person's suitability to remain behind the wheel.
How Can Age Affect Driving Ability?
As people age, factors including reduced vision, impaired hearing, slower motor reflexes and worsening health conditions can impair driving ability. Aging also tends to go hand-in-hand with a reduction of strength, coordination and flexibility — all poised to impact a person's ability to control a vehicle safely. Aging includes stiffening joints and weakening muscles, and many older drivers live with arthritis. Changes like this impact a driver's ability to brake, turn a steering wheel quickly or look over one's shoulder.
Defensive Driving Courses
Defensive driving courses refresh a driver's skills behind the wheel and knowledge of the road's rules and hazards. They may also reduce your chance of a traffic violation or accident and help you save money on your auto insurance rates.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) offers its members a free senior driver improvement course (including an online version) to extend their years on the road. The AARP offers members a similar free Smart Driver Course.
Senior Driving Laws and Regulations
Each state has its own rules for senior drivers. While a driver's license won't be revoked just because a driver is turning a specific age, some states do have different regulations for license renewals for elderly drivers.
What Should Seniors Expect?
Drivers ages 65–70 and older may need to renew their licenses. Renewal procedures will vary by state. Some states may require senior drivers to renew in person, electronically or by mail. Some renewal requirements want drivers to renew in person only. Other requirements may be vision and road tests, which are not typically required of younger drivers.
Several states place restrictions on how frequently seniors will be required to renew a driver's license. Where once a renewal may have been issued every four years, it may now be required every other year or annually. No state has regulations to revoke a driver's license based on age, but some states place restrictions on license renewals for older adult drivers.
Other states do not differentiate their license renewals based on age, and others have fewer requirements for older drivers. For example:
- In Florida, drivers over 80 must renew their license every six years and pass an eye exam at each renewal.
- In Iowa, drivers over 80 will need to renew every two years, and examiners have the authority to add restrictions, such as allowing only daytime driving or limiting the number of miles driven from home.
- In Kentucky, all drivers renew every four years, with no restrictions on older drivers.
Tests You’ll Need to Retake
To renew their driver's licenses, some seniors may be required to retake both the written and road exams at the regular time of renewal. Additionally, a free vision test could be required. However, many states allow drivers to submit vision reports performed by a licensed optometrist, ophthalmologist or physician within six months before the renewal request.
Suppose you have a short-term or long-term disability that impairs your mobility or requires you to use a cane, wheelchair, walker or other devices to get around. In that case, you may qualify for a handicapped parking permit. Rules and qualifications may vary from state to state. Regardless of the permit you get, each state allows your vehicle to park in accessible parking spaces, helping you reach your destination easier. Many states have both temporary and permanent permits depending on your disability. Permits typically come as a placard you can hang from your rearview mirror. Some states have the option of obtaining permanent handicap license plates that can be used instead, typically for free or a nominal fee.
Car Insurance for Senior Drivers
While you may see your car insurance premiums go down as you get older, you may see car insurance rates start crawling uphill in your 60s and 70s. Seniors also have some advantages they didn't have in their youth to aid in car insurance savings. Older drivers may also want to reevaluate their insurance policies from time to time to find cheaper car insurance providers.
Special Requirements and Considerations
Most states require proof of insurance or financial responsibility to register a vehicle and receive license plates. Still, seven states do not require it for registration: Arizona, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin. All states besides New Hampshire require basic liability coverage to operate a vehicle.
Turning Over Your Keys: Know When It’s Time to Stop Driving
Most of us spend a majority of our lives behind the wheel of our vehicles while commuting to work, running errands for our families, embarking out on a night of entertainment and long-distance travel. Still, there may come a time when we must consider our safety and the safety of our passengers and other motorists.
How to Evaluate Your Driving Skills
Seniors often show warning signs that driving is no longer safe for them and others. Beyond accidents and moving violations, these are signs you should keep an eye out for:
- Failure to stop or yield at signs or traffic lights.
- Unable to recognize the right of way.
- Failure to keep track and recall speed limits.
- Forget to signal when making a turn or changing lanes.
- Routinely getting lost, especially in familiar areas.
- Inconsistency with controlling speed.
- Difficulty recognizing the distance between vehicles and other objects.
- Difficulty merging and switching lanes.
- Frequent “near-misses” that could cause accidents.
- Experience road rage, anxiety and stress while driving.
For the senior reluctant to rely on family and friends for transportation, options abound. Ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft are easy to use, and many local senior services offer free rides. Most counties across the U.S. also provide free or low-cost public transportation services designed for seniors who need door-to-door rides. The best way to find these programs is to call your county's Area Agency on Aging, which will connect you with available local programs.
What to Do if You Believe an Older Person Should No Longer Drive
Signs that an older individual may have become unsafe behind the wheel are abundant. Straddling or drifting into other lanes, braking or accelerating without reason and ignoring or missing stop signs are all markers of unsafe driving. Excessive “close calls” or small dents or dings can signal minor incidents that preclude tragedy. And older drivers themselves may feel increasingly uneasy behind the wheel: fearing highway or night driving, getting lost in familiar neighborhoods or experiencing growing anxiety behind the wheel.
While not all states have restrictions on license renewals, all state departments of motor vehicles have an office where a family member or doctor can make a referral about a driver who may be unsafe on the road. Claimants must have the driver’s name as currently shown on the individual’s license, their date of birth, current address and an explanation of why you believe their driving to be unsafe (for example, specific medical conditions, observations or incidents). In some states, concerned family members may be able to make this referral anonymously. The state office will then investigate the claim, and the driver in question may have to take a road test.
Senior Driving Resources
Staying safe on the road requires some extra effort, and the decision to retire from driving can be a difficult one. Here are some resources to give you help and support along the way.
- AAA Senior Driving: The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's website on driver safety issues related to seniors and their families offers driving tips, safety and mobility alternatives.
- AARP: Dedicated to the needs and interests of people 50 and older, AARP promotes independence, dignity and purpose.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention funds the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Older Adult Drivers page. This page contains older driver facts, accident risk and protective factors of senior drivers.
- Community Transportation Association of America: This is a professional membership association of organizations and individuals working to remove barriers to isolation and to improve mobility for all people.
- Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully: This interactive National Highway Traffic Safety Administration booklet has safe driving information, checklists and accommodation tips for older drivers.
- Eldercare Locator: The Eldercare Locator is a service of the U.S. Administration on Community Living. The locator links people who need assistance with state and area agencies on aging and community-based help organizations serving older adults and their caregivers.
- ITNAmerica: ITN provides mass transit through shared rides and advanced planning. ITNAmerica offers community-based senior transportation, developed through research funded by the Federal Transit Administration, AARP and the Transportation Research Board.
- National Institute on Aging: A senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine featuring health information for older adults.
- The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute: The University of Michigan offers an “Enhanced Driving Decisions Workbook,” an online anonymous screening tool that probes health concerns you may be experiencing that could affect safe driving.
- The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: IIHS’s research focuses on countermeasures aimed at human, vehicular and environmental factors in motor vehicle crashes and interventions that can occur before, during and after crashes to reduce losses.
About the Author
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Older Adult Drivers." Accessed March 17, 2021.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Motor Vehicle Safety." Accessed March 17, 2021.
- Community Transportation Association. "Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully." Accessed March 17, 2021.
- National Institute on Aging. "Older Drivers." Accessed March 23, 2021.