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.  However, a 2020 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found that despite the growing number of drivers over the age of 70, they are now involved in fewer fatal crashes. The study, Continued trends in older driver crash involvement rates in the United States: data through 2017–2018, concludes that while fatal crash involvement for drivers age 70 and over have increased in recent years, they are lower than their peak in 1997 while the number of drivers in that age group and their mileage has increased. The authors attribute some of the improvement to better health, and think that as these drivers acquire vehicles with improved crashworthiness their crash survivability will improve.

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 study 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, 21 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.

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 AARP, some states have a law that mandates an automobile insurance discount for anyone completing an approved driver improvement course. Specific state insurance laws vary and individual states may place additional restrictions on eligibility for automobile insurance reductions or discounts. In some states, separate rules may apply to online driver improvement courses.

Charts and Graphs

State Drivers License Renewal Laws Including Requirements For Older Drivers

(As of June 2020)

    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   (2)
Arkansas 8 4 or 8,
personal option
70   (2)
California (3) 5     70 70
Colorado 5       66
Connecticut 8 2 65   (2)
Delaware 8       (2)
D.C. 8       70
Florida 8 6 80 80  
Georgia 8       64
Hawaii 8 2 72    
Idaho 4 or 8,
personal option
4 63   70
Illinois 4 2 81 (4) 75 75
Indiana 6 3 75 (4) 75  
Iowa 8 2 78 70 70
Kansas 6 4 65   (2)
Kentucky 8       (2)
Louisiana 6     70 70
Maine 6 4 65 40 and 62 62
Maryland 8     40  
Massachusetts 5     75 75
Michigan 4        
Minnesota 4       (2)
Mississippi 4 or 8,
personal option
       
Missouri 6 3 70   (2)
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 71 (4) 75 75
New York 8        
North Carolina 8 5 66    
North Dakota 6 4 78   65
Ohio 4       (2)
Oklahoma 4       (2)
Oregon 8     50 (2)
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 8     65  
Vermont 2 or 4        
Virginia 8 5 75 75 75
Washington 6       70
West Virginia 8        
Wisconsin 8       (2)
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) Online or mail renewal not permitted for all drivers.
(3) Specifically requires doctors to report a diagnosis of dementia.
(4) 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 79 and older).

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

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

Involvement Of The Older Population In Traffic Fatalities, 2009 and 2018 (1)

 

  2009 2018 Percent change, 2009-2018
  Total Age 65+ Age 65+
percent of
total
Total Age 65 + Age 65+
percent of
total
Total Age 65+
Population (000) 306,772 39,623 13% 327,167 52,431 16% 7% 32%
Drivers involved in fatal crashes 45,337 5,436 12 51,490 7,316 14 14 35
Driver fatalities 21,835 3,307 15 22,925 4,298 19 5 30
Total traffic fatalities 33,883 5,304 16 36,560 6,907 19 8 30
Occupant fatalities 28,995 4,417 15 29,206 5,437 19 1 23
Pedestrian fatalities 4,109 775 19 6,283 1,275 20 53 65

(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, 2018

 

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

View Archived Graphs

Drivers In Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes By Age, 2018

 

  Licensed drivers Drivers in fatal
crashes
Age group Number Percent of
total drivers
Number Involvement
rate (1)
16 to 20 11,961,442 5.3% 4,061 34.0
21 to 24 14,270,243 6.3 4,777 33.5
25 to 34 40,165,221 17.7 10,738 26.7
35 to 44 37,645,683 16.5 8,110 21.5
45 to 54 38,643,003 17.0 7,863 20.4
55 to 64 39,580,799 17.4 7,261 18.3
65 to 74 28,194,118 12.4 4,218 15.0
Over 74 17,054,879 7.5 3,098 18.2
Total 227,558,385 100.0% 51,490 (2) 22.6

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

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

View Archived Tables

Additional resources:

 

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