According to AAA, by 2030 there will be more than 70 million people 65 and older in this country, and 85% to 90% of them with a driver’s license.
AAA warns we must face a reckoning when it comes to our ability to hit the road, noting “seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of 7-10 years.”
Not that it’s so simple to give up driving.
Life in the U.S. is largely built around the car. Americans rely on their vehicles to get to the store, to the doctor’s office, to, well, anywhere.
To give up driving is to give up a sense of independence that seniors value.
In Arizona, drivers 65 and older must renew their licenses every five years. They are required to provide proof of adequate vision every-other renewal, or once a decade. They may not renew by mail or online and must appear in person.
Experts believe there may be ways to work around age-related challenges without giving up driving.
A driver with arthritis that may affect the ability to turn the neck and check blind spots can buy a car with blind-spot technology. A driver who no longer feels comfortable with some driving maneuvers — say, making a left turn at a busy intersection — can choose to avoid that intersection. These challenges aren’t exclusive to seniors.
But will seniors be subjected to different requirements?
California is among states that make requirements of older drivers, specifically requiring those 70 and older to renew their license in person and provide proof of adequate vision. Many states require older drivers to renew their license more frequently.
Eighty-year-old Vermont state Sen. Mark MacDonald sponsored legislation requiring drivers 75 and older to pass vision and road tests to renew a license.
Sen. MacDonald said he was speaking from experience and knows the reality of growing older. He has been quoted saying, “My skills are diminished. … I drive differently than when I was younger.”
The Vermont bill was opposed by AARP, which said it discriminates on the basis of age. AARP’s policy supports effective, evidence-based assessment to identify at-risk drivers of all ages.
The knowledge test for drivers 70 and older is computerized. Many seniors are not computer savvy. Applicants can request a DMV representative to read the questions aloud, and the applicant answers verbally.
Illinois is considering updating driving requirements for those 80 and older.
Will Arizona be next?
Joan Koczor is a senior advocate and a member of the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Board.
This column was previously published in InMaricopa Magazine.