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December 22, 2014 Published in Traffic & Transportation

Tougher Rules And Special Provisions For Elderly Drivers Go Into Effect In Virginia On New Year’s Day

Stricter driver’s license-renewal rules for older drivers – including accelerated renewal cycles and age-specific in-person renewal procedures – go into effect in Virginia, at the stroke of midnight  on New Year’s Day. The new law lowers the age for mandatory in-person license renewal to 75 from 80. Starting Jan, 1, 2015, Virginia drivers 75 years old and older will no longer be eligible to renew their driver’s license electronically or by mail. Instead, they must apply in person for every renewal, beginning at age 75. In addition, the new tougher rules shorten the license renewal cycle for drivers 75 and older from every eight years to every five years, as of Jan. 1.

That means older drivers will be making more frequent trips to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles under the new special provisions. What’s more, licensed drivers in the state 75 and older must also pass the department’s vision requirements or present a vision statement, no older than 90 days, from an optometrist or an ophthalmologist.

“Senior drivers favor tougher driving laws and an overwhelming majority support greater scrutiny in the license-renewal process for themselves and their peers. Remarkably, support for these measures was greatest among drivers 75 and older,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “In fact, older Americans tend to support policies to keep themselves safer behind the wheel, making them key allies in their mission to keep driving--smarter and longer, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s report Older American Drivers and Traffic Safety Culture.”

The new law (HB 771) gives judges more latitude to require older drivers found guilty in District Court  of a traffic misdemeanor, traffic infractions,  or other traffic violations to successfully complete traffic school, enroll in a “mature driver motor vehicle crash prevent course” or a “driving improvement course,” in lieu of a finding of guilty. As a sweetener, the law allows all insurers writing motor vehicle insurance in Virginia to offer reductions in insurance premiums upon successfully completing an approved crash prevention course through actual classroom instruction.

The 2010 Census reveals 817,339 Virginians 65 or older were licensed drivers. Previously, the in-person renewal requirements in Virginia applied strictly to drivers age 80 and older. Before the changes, the regulations governing older driver also required them to renew in person and pass a vision test once every eight years. Younger licensed drivers are required to renew their driver’s licenses every eight years.

Will mature drivers, who comprise approximately 16.1%  of all licensed drivers in Virginia, be receptive to the tougher mature driving laws?  In fact, research by the AAA Foundation finds:

  • More than seven out of 10 drivers age 65 and older favor policies that require drivers age 75 and older to renew their license in person and also support requirements that seniors pass a medical screening to remain licensed.
  • Nearly 80 percent of drivers over age 75 favor medical screenings for drivers ages 75 and older, and 79 percent of drivers in this age group support in-person renewals.

An estimated 12.5 percent of the population in Virginia is 65 or older. As 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, Virginia joins a growing number of states (33 states, all told, as of December 2014) and the District of Columbia in enacting special provisions for mature drivers.

The District has more than 100,000 citizens over the age of 60, and 72,000 residents 65 and over (comprising more than 11 percent of the city’s population). Although District law specifically states than an applicant shall not be required to retake the written or road test based solely on advanced age, drivers at age 70, or the nearest renewal date thereafter, must provide a statement from a practicing physician certifying the senior is physically and mentally competent to drive. In addition, drivers 70 and older in the District are required to take a vision test upon renewal, and some older drivers may be required to take a reaction test.  Still, each person applying for a renewal must pass a vision test. The length of the regular renewal cycle remains eight years for mature drivers, as it does for all other drivers licensed in the city.

Regardless of age, the length of the regular renewal cycle is expanding to eight years in Maryland for all drivers. It will save the state millions of dollars, claims the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration MVA.  However, a vision test is required at age 40 and older at every renewal in Maryland.  Maryland boasts 604,487 licensed drivers ages 65 and over, as of 2012, reports the MVA.  “Some states’ licensing laws specifically prohibit licensing administrators from treating people differently solely by virtue of advanced age,” explains the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety. “Maryland law specifies that age alone is not grounds for reexamination of drivers; applicants for an initial license age 70 and older must provide proof of previous satisfactory operation of a vehicle or physician's certificate of fitness.”

Approximately 1,011,063 persons in Virginia are 65 and older. That number will swell to 1.3 million by 2030. Almost every state, including Virginia, has a process for reporting a potentially unsafe driver to its licensing office or department of motor vehicles explains AAA. Law enforcement officers and physicians represent the majority of individuals submitting reports, although concerned citizens also can do so. If a state agency finds a complaint reasonable and credible, it may ask the reported driver to submit additional information, which could be used to help determine if a screening or assessment is justified.

Seniors represent the fastest-growing segment of drivers, with current projections suggesting that a quarter of all drivers will be over 65 by 2025, notes AAA Mid-Atlantic. Although seniors have an overall crash rate comparable to that of 20-and 30-year-old drivers, they are the most fragile drivers on the road, with a higher death rate per mile driven than any other group, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. AAA provides the following resources to mature drivers.

  • AAA Roadwise Review – A computer-based screening tool that allows older drivers to measure changes in their functional abilities scientifically linked to crash risk.
  • CarFit – A community-based program that offers older adults the opportunity to check how well their personal vehicles “fit” them for maximum comfort and safety.
  • Smart Features for Mature Drivers – A guide to help identify vehicle features that can assist drivers with the visual, physical and mental changes that are frequently encountered as they age.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is taking a long-term look at aging drivers with a study that will systematically monitor the driving habits of more than 3,000 senior drivers over the next five years.

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