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What Older Drivers Should Know About Renewing Licenses

Some states require a vision test, an in-person visit or a written test

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​A lot of older drivers get behind the wheel every day.

​​The Automobile Association of America reports that by 2030, more than 70 million people in the U.S. will be 65 or older—and up to 90 percent of them will have a driver’s license. ​​

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​While no U.S. states require drivers to give up their car keys at a certain age, state licensing agencies do have regulations to keep older drivers on the road safely. That includes measures to determine whether drivers can still renew their licenses at all.

​So what do you need to know when yours is about to expire? ​​

​Depending on where you live, your age and your driving skills, renewing your license can be simple or more complex. License-renewal procedures vary by state.  ​​

​But the majority of states require proof of adequate vision at renewal (or every other renewal) — some for all drivers, and some for drivers at various ages, including starting at age 40 in Maryland, age 62 in Maine, and age 80 in Florida, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.​​

​“It makes sense that states are testing drivers to make sure they can demonstrate the ability to drive safely,” says William Van Tassel, AAA’s manager of driver training programs. “If you can’t see, you can’t drive." ​​

​Many states also require in-person visits to renew at older ages, including California, Idaho and North Dakota, which don't allow online or mail-in license renewal starting at age 70; and Kansas and Ohio, which require in-person renewal at 65 and older. ​​

​The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has studied how license-renewal policies influence accidents or fatalities, says Jessica Cicchino, IIHS’ vice president of research. The impact is not always what people might expect.​​​

​​“The reports we’ve seen that are associated with lower death rates for older people require them to come in person or require proof of vision, and those have only shown to be effective for people who are 85 and older,” she says.​​

​One state goes even further to assess older drivers. In Illinois, all renewing drivers get their vision tested, and the state requires everyone to take a written exam every eight years unless your record is free of traffic convictions. ​

Illinois is also the only state that requires older drivers 75 and up to pass a road test to renew their license.

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That practice "was found to be associated with lower insurance claim rates for drivers who were 75 and older, especially in urban areas,” Cicchino says.

​Brush up on your skills​

​​Since most older drivers have not studied for a driving test since they were teenagers, license renewal time can be a good marker for refreshing skills and knowledge. ​​

Many driving laws and practices have changed in the decades since drivers passed their first test. For example, all 50 states enacted “Move Over” laws beginning in 2007 to protect law enforcement and service technicians on the side of the road as they’re tending to a crash or disabled vehicle, yet many Americans still don’t know they exist, according to a recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report.

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“That’s fairly new for drivers ... Also, many states are adding more roundabouts or traffic circles, so we help drivers with the basic techniques of using them,” Van Tassel says.​​

​Here are four ways to enhance your driving IQ:

​1. Revisit driving requirements​​

​Even if your state doesn’t require on-road or written testing, you could be asked by your doctor or a family member to get your driving skills assessed, especially if you’re experiencing mobility or cognitive symptoms that might affect your ability to drive. Or you may simply want to refresh your abilities because you’re nervous to drive at night or in bad weather, says Van Tassel, who suggests taking a driving refresher course either online or in a classroom setting.​​ ​

Safety courses from AARP or other organizations like AAA can help older drivers familiarize themselves with current state laws and new vehicle technologies, such as automatic emergency braking and blind spot warning technology and can provide a general refresher on safe driving techniques. ​

Some auto insurance companies will often offer a discount to drivers who take these courses.​​​​

Illinois offers a program called Super Seniors that features a review of safe-driving techniques and state driving laws, along with a workbook and practice exams. Other states, such as California, encourage drivers over 55 to take refresher courses that include defensive-driving techniques, an update on motor vehicle laws and the effects that medication, fatigue, alcohol, visual or auditory limitations have on a person’s driving ability.​​

“We spend a lot of time in our refresher courses focusing on how over-the-counter and prescription medications can affect driving,” Van Tassel says. “Our principal advice is to talk with your doctor or pharmacist and make sure that what you’re taking doesn’t affect driving. Or if it does, don’t drive while you’re using them.”​​

2. Read up on regulations

Every state offers a driver’s handbook. Van Tassel advises picking one up at your local DMV or online to stay current on road safety. You can also find one through most online driver-safety programs or on an app.​​

​“It contains what that state expects drivers to know before heading out on the road, and it includes a lot of detail — from the right of way, safe traffic stops and other newer things,” Van Tassel says. ​​

​3. Book an in-car lesson to check your driving ability

​A session or two with a professional instructor can give drivers more confidence,. ​​

​“Drivers can get immediate feedback on how they’re doing overall, and some tips for improving their driving,” Van Tassel says. ​​​

​​Taking a driving lesson can also be useful for drivers who may have picked up bad habits over the years, Van Tassel says. ​​

​4. Take note of your driving limitations​​

Many older drivers automatically limit their driving as they age, Cicchino says, but it's good to pay closer attention to what may be causing driving challenges, whether that's poor eyesight, difficulty driving at night or navigation issues. ​​

“We see that in places that have put in things like vision-based restrictions on people’s licenses, that reinforces behaviors that older people were already doing based on restrictions they knew they had,” Cicchino says.

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