Background on: Older drivers

Overview

Older drivers are keeping their licenses longer and driving more miles than ever before.

The high fatality rates of this age group reflect the fact that older drivers are more easily injured than younger people and are more apt to have medical complications and die of those injuries.

There is a growing need to help older drivers sharpen their skills as well as recognize their changing abilities and adapt their driving practices appropriately. Insurers have partnered with state and local governments, and groups such as AARP and the AAA Foundation for Highway Safety to create programs designed to address these needs.

Improving Older Driver Safety

According to the Governors Highway Safety Administration, impairments in three key areas—vision, cognition and motor function—are responsible for higher crash rates for older drivers. Vision declines with age; cognition, which includes memory and attention, can be impacted by medical problems such as dementia and medication side effects; and motor function suffers as flexibility declines due to diseases such as arthritis.

A 2018 report from TRIP, a nonprofit organization that studies transportation issues, calls for  transportation improvements that will enable older Americans to maintain their mobility. Since there are about 46 million people age 65 or older, projected to more than double to over 98 million by 2060, roadway safety improvements are increasingly important as 90 percent of travel for this demographic takes place in a private vehicle. Almost 80 percent live in auto-dependent suburban and rural areas. Public transit accounts for only two percent of trips for older Americans. Ridesharing services can help seniors maintain their mobility although they often require the use of smartphones, which are owned by under one-third of older Americans. Self-driving and connected vehicles hold much promise for the mobility of older Americans.

Licensing requirements and restrictions

Many states routinely attempt to identify, assess and regulate older drivers with diminishing abilities who cannot or will not voluntarily modify their driving habits. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 18 states require older drivers to renew their drivers licenses more often than the rest of the state’s residents. In addition, 18 states require more frequent vision tests for older motorists.  Sixteen states and the District of Columbia prohibit older drivers from renewing licenses by mail or online. One state, Illinois, requires older drivers age 75 and over to take a road test at renewal and the District of Columbia requires a doctor’s approval for drivers over the age of 70 to renew their licenses.

Some states restrict driving activities for people with certain medical conditions or after a serious accident or traffic violation. Depending on their ability, older drivers may be limited to driving during daylight hours or on nonfreeway types of roads. In most states restrictions such as these can be placed on anyone’s drivers license, regardless of age, if his or her medical condition warrants it.

A 2014 study published in the journal Injury Epidemiology found that no policy in state drivers license renewal laws examined had a significant impact on fatal crash involvement of drivers younger than 85 years of age. However, two provisions had some effect on the involvement of older drivers in fatal crashes. Mandatory in-person renewal was associated with a 31 percent reduction in the fatal crash involvement rates of drivers ages 85 and older. In states where in-person renewal was not required, requiring drivers to pass a vision test was associated with a similar reduction for drivers age 85 and older. But in states where in-person renewal was required, mandating a vision test was not associated with any additional reduction, along with requiring a knowledge test or an on-road driving test. Results were also not statistically significant for laws that require more frequent renewal or requiring healthcare providers to report cases concerning their patients’ driving ability.

Insurance discounts

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, as of January 2015, 34 states and the District of Columbia mandated premium discounts for older adults. (These state laws have not been changed since February 2013.) All but Massachusetts require older drivers (usually age 55 and over) to complete an approved-accident prevention course. In addition, 12 states mandate discounts to all drivers (including older drivers) who take defensive driving or other drivers’ education courses. In general, the state-mandated discounts apply to liability coverages because they are most relevant. The regulations can vary by state. For instance, in Massachusetts the older adult discount applies to all coverages for drivers over the age of 65.

In addition, some insurance companies offer discounts in the states in which they do business for drivers who complete defensive driving or other approved courses, including discounts for seniors who take AARP courses.

Charts and Graphs

State Drivers License Renewal Laws Including Requirements For Older Drivers

(As of June 2018)

    Renewal for older drivers Proof of adequate vision
required at renewal (1)
 
State Length of regular
renewal cycle (years)
Length (years) Age Older Drivers, age Age limits on mail
or online renewal
Alabama 4        
Alaska 5     69 69
Arizona 12 5 65    
Arkansas 8 4 or 8, personal option 70    
California (2) 5     70 70
Colorado 5       66
Connecticut 6 2 or 6, personal option 65    
Delaware 8        
D.C. 8        
Florida 8 6 80 80  
Georgia 8 8 59   64
Hawaii 8 2 72    
Idaho 4 or 8, personal option 4 63   70
Illinois 4 2 81 (3) 75 75
Indiana 6 3 75 (3) 75 75
Iowa 8 2 72 70 70
Kansas 6 4 65    
Kentucky 8*        
Louisiana 6     70 70
Maine 6 4 65 40 and 62 62
Maryland 8     40  
Massachusetts 5     75 75
Michigan 4        
Minnesota 4        
Mississippi 4 or 8, personal option        
Missouri 6 3 70    
Montana 8 4 75    
Nebraska 5     72 72
Nevada 8 4 65 71 65
New Hampshire 5        
New Jersey 4 2 or 4 personal option 70    
New Mexico 4 or 8, personal option 4 67 (3) 75 75
New York 8        
North Carolina 8 5 66    
North Dakota 6 4 78   65
Ohio 4        
Oklahoma 4        
Oregon 8     50  
Pennsylvania 4 2 or 4 personal option 65    
Rhode Island 5 2 75    
South Carolina 8        
South Dakota 5     65  
Tennessee 8        
Texas 6 2 85 79 79
Utah 5     65  
Vermont 2 or 4        
Virginia 8 5 75 75 75
Washington 6       70
West Virginia 8        
Wisconsin 8        
Wyoming 4        

(1) States noted in this column require proof of adequate vision for older drivers at the age shown at every renewal. Most states require all drivers to show proof at every renewal or every in-person renewal. Eight states (Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Vermont) do not require drivers to show proof of adequate vision at any age.
(2) Specifically requires doctors to report a diagnosis of dementia.
(3) These states have special renewal requirements for other age groups: Illinois (1 year for drivers 87 and older); Indiana (2 years for drivers 85 and older); and New Mexico (1 year for drivers 75 and older).

Note: Specific requirements vary by state; contact state department of motor vehicles for more information.

*Effective January 1, 2019.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety; Governors Highway Safety Administration.

Involvement Of The Older Population In Traffic Fatalities, 2007 and 2016 (1)

  2007 2016 Percent change, 2007-2016
  Total Age 65+  Age 65+
percent
of total
Total Age 65 + Age 65+
percent
of total
Total Age 65+
Population (000) 301,231 37,826 13% 323,128 49,244 15% 7% 30%
Drivers involved in fatal crashes 56,019 5,917 11 51,914 7,093 14 -7 20
Driver fatalities 26,570 3,673 14 23,560 4,204 18 -11 14
Total traffic fatalities 41,259 5,967 14 37,461 6,764 18 -9 13
Occupant fatalities 35,701 4,946 14 30,382 5,392 18 -15 9
Pedestrian fatalities 4,699 910 19 5,987 1,158 19 27 27

(1) Age 65 and older.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

View Archived Tables

Motor Vehicle Deaths Per 100,000 Persons By Age, 2016

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

View Archived Graphs

Drivers In Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes By Age, 2016

 

Age group Number of
licensed drivers
Percent of
total
Drivers in fatal
crashes
Involvement
rate (1)
16 to 20 12,002,717 5.4% 4,412 36.76
21 to 24 14,460,176 6.5 5,233 36.19
25 to 34 39,194,065 17.7 10,815 27.59
35 to 44 36,500,347 16.5 8,116 22.24
45 to 54 39,407,317 17.8 7,946 20.16
55 to 64 38,379,823 17.3 6,966 18.15
65 to 74 26,070,715 11.8 4,122 15.81
Over 74 15,633,421 7.1 2,971 19.00
Total 221,711,918 100.0% 51,914 (2) 23.42

(1) Per 100,000 licensed drivers.
(2) Includes drivers under the age of 16 and 1,071 drivers of unknown age.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Federal Highway Administration.

View Archived Tables

Additional resources:

 

© Insurance Information Institute, Inc. - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Back to top