Older Drivers and Traffic Safety

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					                Wisconsin Briefs

                      from the Legislative Reference Bureau


Brief 04­4                                                                          February 2004

                 OLDER DRIVERS AND TRAFFIC SAFETY
     Calls for legislation for restrictions on     such as arthritis, glaucoma, and others during
driver license renewals for older drivers often    advanced age.
follow media coverage of a high­profile crash            Aging does not, however, affect all people
causing death or multiple injuries. A number       in the same way, at the same ages, and at the
of states, including Wisconsin, have made or       same rate.       Many drivers are able to
are considering changes to laws relating to        compensate for some of these factors, while
motor vehicle licensing of older drivers.          others will no longer be able to drive safely.
     The issue will become increasingly            For example, turning one’s head frequently to
significant as the proportion of the population    observe traffic to the sides can make up
over age 65 increases, from about 12.4% in 2000    somewhat for reduced peripheral vision.
to a U.S. Census projection of 18.5% in 2025,      Allowing more space between cars can
and more than 20% by 2045.                State    compensate for diminished depth perception
governments will need to find an appropriate       and slower reaction times. Reduced night
balance between the public safety concerns in      vision may force an older driver to limit his or
identifying drivers who are not able to operate    her driving to daylight hours and have
motor vehicles safely, and the capacity of         someone else drive at night. Drivers who take
senior      citizens    to   maintain     their    various medications (whether prescription or
independence. This is a challenge facing an        over­the­counter) need to be aware of the
aging population living in a society in which      effects of their drugs (and interactions
the ability to drive a motor vehicle is seen as    between different drugs) and may sometimes
almost a necessity, especially in communities      need to refrain from driving.
that lack adequate rapid transit.                        For drivers suffering from dementia,
                                                   Alzheimer’s disease, or other cognitive and
BACKGROUND
                                                   memory defects, continuing to drive at all
    Driving a motor vehicle has become             simply will not be safe and family or friends
routine for most adults in the U.S., but it is a   need to recognize the decline in cognitive
surprisingly complex task involving the use of     ability and intervene to assure that the person
a number of different skills. Drivers need to be   will not attempt to drive.
able to sense changes in the road environment,           Road Design. Changes in road design
process the information, make decisions, and       can provide some partial accommodation for
respond quickly.                                   physiological conditions that affect driving.
    Adapting to Aging­Related Changes.             Larger and higher contrast lettering on signs,
Vision, hearing, motor skills, and reaction        for example, can be useful for those with visual
times do tend to decline as a person ages,         impairments. Redesign of intersections and
whether because of the aging process itself or     left turn lanes can alleviate some difficulties in
because of the increased incidence of diseases     judging the distance and speed of oncoming


Prepared by Robert Paolino, Legislative Analyst             Reference Desk: (608) 266­0341
                                                            Web Site: www.legis.state.wi.us/lrb
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traffic and make decision­making easier.            million VMT; that is roughly the same as the
Longer entrance and exit ramps on highways          rate for drivers aged 20­24 (644), but is still
can also help.                                      considerably lower than the rate of 2,144 per
     Crash Statistics. In some respects, older      100 million VMT for drivers aged 16­19.
drivers are collectively among the safest                One analysis of Wisconsin crashes per
drivers on the road in that they have more          miles driven during 1998­2002 found drivers
experience driving and are less likely than         aged 81 and older to have 6 drivers per million
other age groups to speed and to drive while        miles travelled involved in reported crashes,
drunk. Indeed, some automobile insurance            about the same as for drivers aged 21­25, but
companies offer discounts to drivers over age       about double the rate of drivers aged 31­70.
55. Drivers aged 65 or older accounted for          Only drivers 20 and under fared worse, with
about 15% of Wisconsin licensed drivers in          16 drivers involved in a crash per million miles
2002, but about 8% of crashes. In contrast,         travelled.
drivers aged 24 and younger accounted for a              In short, by some measures, older drivers
greater percentage of crashes (about 30%) than      have proportionately fewer crashes than the
their proportion of all licensed drivers (about     general driving population, but that may be
15%).                                               because they also drive less. However, the
     Fatal crash rates, however, present a          crashes that do occur are statistically more
different picture. Drivers in their teens and       likely to be fatal or cause injury.
early twenties have high fatal crash rates −
more than 0.6 fatalities per 1,000 licensed         OTHER STATES’ POLICIES
drivers for teenage drivers and a rate of about
0.5 for the 20­24 age group. The rate falls              Most states have policies to review an
sharply with age, dropping to 0.3 for the 25­34     individual driver’s capabilities and restrict or
group, and continues to decline to less than 0.2    revoke a driver’s licence if the person’s driving
for the 65­74 group. For drivers age 75 and         is determined to be unsafe, regardless of age.
older, however, the rates increase sharply,         But these policies often depend on a family
approaching (but not reaching) the rates for        member, physician, law enforcement officer,
drivers in their early twenties. One factor         or other person reporting the driver to the state
contributing to increased fatalities for older      for retesting or evaluation by a medical review
drivers is that they are physically more            board or other body. Many find these
susceptible to severe injury in a crash that a      procedures less effective than they should be
younger driver might be able to survive.            because of the strong emotional conflicts that
     A      Wisconsin        Department        of   can arise in ”taking the keys away” from an
Transportation analysis of Wisconsin drivers        older driver.
in crashes per vehicle miles travelled (VMT)             Some states address the issue by
during 2002 found that incidence of crashes         implementing a more systematic means of
declines with age group, dropping below 300         monitoring all drivers over a certain age, by
drivers in crashes per 100 million VMT for the      shortening the licence renewal interval or
45­49, 50­54, and 55­59 age groups. It increases    retesting drivers. Some people, however, view
slightly with the 60­64, 65­69, and 70­74 age       these approaches as a form of age
groups, and increases more markedly                 discrimination, saying that it imposes
beginning at age 75. For drivers aged 85 and        additional burdens on certain adult drivers
older, the rate is 616 drivers in crashes per 100   solely on the basis of age.
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     Age­based laws directed toward older         and older do not expire. Furthermore, seniors
drivers can be viewed differently from            60 and older in Tennessee are entitled to
”graduated licensing” restrictions on teenage     reduced fees. In Oklahoma, renewals are
drivers. The latter is a condition under which    every four years for all drivers, but fees are
the adult privilege of driving a motor vehicle    reduced for drivers aged 62­64, and waived for
is extended to minors, whereas special laws       those 65 and older.
applicable to older drivers make age­based             Vision Tests. Seven states require vision
distinctions among adults. Opponents of           tests for older drivers that are not routinely
age­based laws note that some drivers in          required of other drivers renewing their
younger age groups are not as safe as older       licenses. Maine requires a vision test for every
drivers, and that many older drivers who have     other renewal starting with the first one after
physiological limitations acknowledge them        age 40; after age 62, the state requires a vision
and already make adjustments in their driving     test upon every renewal.
habits, such as avoiding busy roads or night           Skills and Knowledge Retesting. Two
driving and taking familiar routes.               states require older drivers to take a road test
     According to a review of states’ licensing   to be able to renew their licenses. Illinois
renewal provisions as of August 2003 by the       requires a road test for renewal applicants age
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 22        75 and older. In New Hampshire, drivers must
states and the District of Columbia have          take a road test with renewals at age 75 and
various types of renewal procedures for           older, but the renewal period is the same five
drivers who reach a certain age that do not       years as for all adult drivers. The District of
apply to younger adult drivers.                   Columbia may require a road test (and/or a
     Among other states, however, Maryland,       written test) for drivers 75 and older, and may
Minnesota, and Nevada have laws that              require a reaction test for drivers 70 and older.
specifically prohibit age alone as grounds for         Physician Certifications. Although most
reexamination of drivers, and Massachusetts       states can review a driver’s capability to drive
prohibits any discrimination in motor vehicle     upon referral by a physician, only the District
licensing on the basis of age.                    of Columbia requires all renewal applicants
     Accelerated Renewal. Fourteen states         aged 70 and older to provide a statement from
require older drivers to renew their licenses     a physician certifying the applicant to be
more often than the regular renewal period for    mentally and physically competent to drive.
other adult drivers. The youngest age to which    Nevada requires a medical report for drivers
this kind of provision applies is at age 61 in    who are 70 and older only if the driver renews
Colorado, where older drivers must renew          by mail.
every five years rather than every 10 years. In        No Mail Renewal. Among states that
Illinois, the accelerated renewal period does     allow drivers to renew their licences by mail or
not apply until age 81; drivers aged 81­86 must   online, six states require older drivers to
renew every two years, compared to four years     appear personally for license renewal as a way
for other drivers. Starting at age 87, license    of monitoring for some of the more obvious
renewal is required annually in Illinois.         signs that a person may not be competent to
     In contrast to states that require more      drive safely.
frequent renewal for older drivers, Tennessee
law provides that licences issued to drivers 65
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    Some states that do permit mail or online      2004, by Representatives Wasserman and John
renewal may also prohibit consecutive mail         Ainsworth, and subsequently recommended
renewals by drivers of any age.                    by     the     Assembly        Committee       on
                                                   Transportation would leave the renewal
PROPOSED WISCONSIN                                 period and fees for all drivers at the current
LEGISLATION                                        eight years and $24, but would require a vision
                                                   test every three years for drivers aged 75­84,
     Current Law. The 1997 biennial budget
                                                   and every two years for drivers aged 85 and
(Act 27) extended the renewal period for a
                                                   older. Drivers 85 and older would also need to
regular Wisconsin Class D driver license from
                                                   pass a knowledge test every two years. A road
four years to eight years, and increased the fee
                                                   test would remain optional at the discretion of
from $10 to $24. During the transition period
                                                   the Department of Transportation (DOT),
from      four­    to    eight­year   renewals,
                                                   rather than required as in the original AB­575.
noncommercial drivers with good driving
records received four year extensions by mail,          ASA­1 also proposes a study of the impact
with no personal appearance and vision test        of the law (if enacted) on the affected age
required. Licenses so extended will remain in      groups’ crash rates, violation rates, loss of
circulation through February 2006, after which     driving privileges, and related issues. It
all current Wisconsin license renewals will be     would direct DOT to appoint an advisory
on the new eight­year cycle.                       council to study the effects of aging and
                                                   driving ability, identify existing transportation
     Proposed Changes for Older Drivers.
                                                   alternatives,     and     examine      additional
2003 Assembly Bill 575, sponsored by
                                                   transportation alternatives for older drivers
Representatives Sheldon A. Wasserman and
                                                   throughout the state. As of February 20, 2004,
J.A. Hines, proposed shortening the renewal
                                                   the bill had not been scheduled for a vote by
period to two years and requiring a written
                                                   the full Assembly.
test for drivers aged 75­94 years. A road test
would also be required for drivers over the age    FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
of 75 who committed a moving violation
                                                        The text and history of 2003 Assembly Bill
during the prior period. Starting at age 95,
                                                   575 and amendments can be viewed by using
renewal would be annual and also require a
                                                   “Text and History of Legislative Proposals” at
road test. (Current law sets the fee for a road
                                                   www.legis.state.wi.us.
test at $15, with up to two additional attempts
                                                        Further information is available from the
included in the fee for those who fail the first
                                                   following Internet sites:
test. The bill proposes to change the fee to $15
per test for all drivers, with additional fees     � Wisconsin Department of Transportation:
payable for re­tries.) Older drivers would pay       www.dot.state.wi.us/drivers
more to renew their licenses, at the rate of $5    � Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:
per year of each renewal period (compared to         www.iihs.org/safety_facts/fatality_facts/
$24 for the eight­year license) to defray some       older_people.htm
of the costs of more frequent renewals.            � National Highway Traffic Safety Admin­
     Assembly Substitute Amendment 1                 istration: www­nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/
(ASA­1) to 2003 AB­575, offered on January 27,       nrd­30/NCSA/TSF2002/2002oldfacts.pdf
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                    Age­Based Renewal Laws for Older Drivers
            (Age at which policy first applies/retesting interval in parentheses.)

                                 Accelerated Renewal (14 states)
Arizona (65 / 5 years)
                         Kansas (65 / 4 years)

Colorado (61 / 5 years)
                        Maine (65 / 4 years)

Hawaii (72 / 2 years)
                          Missouri (70 / 3 years)

Idaho (63 / 4 years)
                           Montana (75 / 4 years)

Illinois (81 / 2 years; 87 / 1 year)
           New Mexico (75 / 4 years)

Indiana (75 / 3 years)
                         Rhode Island (70 / 2 years)

Iowa (70 / 2 years)
                            South Carolina (65 / 5 years)

                                      Vision Testing (7 states)
Arizona (65)                                      Oregon (50)

District of Columbia (70)                         South Carolina (65)

Florida (80)                                      Utah (65)

Maine (40, every other renewal;

   62, every renewal)
                                    No Mail Renewal (6 states)
Alaska (69)                                     Colorado (66)

Arizona (70)                                    Connecticut (65, with hardship exceptions)

California (70)                                 Louisiana (70)

                          Skills and Knowledge Retesting (3 states)
District of Columbia (optional road and/or   Illinois (75, road test)
   written testing at 75; optional reaction  New Hampshire (75, road test)
   testing at 70)
                                Physician Certification (2 states)
District of Columbia (70)                       Nevada (70, if mail renewal)
Source: Derived from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “U.S. Driver Licensing Renewal Procedures
 for Older Drivers as of August 2003.” http://www.hwysafety.org/safety_facts/state_laws/older_drivers.htm