How Old is Too Old to Drive?


Should the government require regular driving tests as we age?

donate your car if you're too old to drive
7 min read

Previously, we explored the larger subject of whether the government should implement driving tests at regular intervals to keep skills and knowledge of driving laws up to date.

See Part I: Should the Government Require Regular Driver’s Tests?

A critical piece of this question has to do with age, and whether the number of years since an individual studied driver’s education and learned the rules of the road has an impact on his or her current driving ability. Further, factors such as mental and physical ability – as they change with age – are part of these considerations.

According to the NHTSA, motor vehicle traffic crashes killed 5,560 people aged 65 and older and injured another 214,000 in 2012. “These older people made up 17 percent of all traffic fatalities and 9 percent of all people injured in traffic crashes during the year,” but accounted for 14 percent of the U.S. population.

While driver fatalities in this elder 65-and-over group have decreased in recent years, the population is increasingly living longer (with and despite physical ailments and disabilities due to aging). So not only are there more individuals driving with vision, hearing, cognitive and other physical impairment, the number of years since they learned to drive is expanding.

Driving offers people flexibility and mobility in their lives, and we certainly don’t think anyone should be unfairly deprived of that freedom. However, we have to wonder how aging affects driver and road safety, and consider what to do if you think someone is too old to drive.

too old to drive

Can You Be “Too Old to Drive?” 

States don’t set an age at which a person must stop driving; to do so would be discrimination because people of the same age often have quite different abilities based on a variety of factors such as illness and disease history, physical activity level, and mental acuity. However, many states have increased requirements for drivers of a certain age.

  • In some, elderly drivers can’t renew their licenses by mail when they are over a certain age.
  • In others, they must take a written or vision test every few years.
  • And in several, drivers older than a certain age must renew their licenses more frequently than younger drivers.

Often the choice comes down to each driver or to family members tasked with their care. The AARP offers some guidelines for when to limit or stop driving.

To set an age at which a person must stop driving would be discrimination.

Warning Signs That Someone is Too Old to Drive:

  • Frequent close calls or near-misses when it comes to collisions
  • Dents in the driver’s vehicle, garage, curb, mailbox or other objects they pass on a daily basis
  • Getting lost in familiar locations
  • Vision trouble
  • Difficulty interpreting or following traffic signals, signs, or pavement markings
  • Slow response times
  • Confusing the gas and brake pedals
  • Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway on- and off-ramps
  • Road rage with aggressive displays, like honking
  • Difficulty concentrating or becoming easily distracted while driving
  • Difficulty turning to check blind spots or the rear view
  • Multiple traffic tickets or warnings from law enforcement

The AARP encourages drivers (and loved ones) to consider ending or limiting driving or taking driver-improvement courses if just one of these items is present.

older drivers in convertible

Resources for Elderly Drivers

The NHTSA offers these resources for communicating with parents, grandparents, or other loved ones you worry may be too old to drive:

If you’ve determined that you or someone you love has aged out of driving, public transportation and ridesharing services are great options for getting around.

Ageism in the Auto Insurance Industry: How Age Can Impact How Much You Pay

Car insurance companies base their rates on risk, and much of how they determine each driver’s risk is based on a profile of collected demographic data. They look at how often other drivers with your shared characteristics (age, gender, driving history) make claims, and they assume you’re likely to have the same claims rates. Some states forbid the use of certain types of demographic data (five states, for insurance, aren’t allowed to use gender). Age, however, has been shown to have a substantial impact on how experienced and skillful a driver is, and it’s not surprising that insurance companies use age as a factor in their rates.

old hands

In The Zebra’s State of Auto Insurance Report we determined just how much age impacts what drivers pay for auto insurance:

  • Drivers between 16 and 19 unsurprisingly pay the most. The average cost to insure a driver between these ages in the U.S. is $4,957—almost five times what older ages pay.
  • After 19, each birthday brings a lower rate: 50-59 year olds pay $84 less than 40-49 year olds, who pay $57 less than 30-39 year olds, who in turn pay $499 less than 20-29 year olds.
  • At an average of $1,151 per year, drivers between the ages of 50-59 pay the least for their policies, all else being equal.
  • However, once most drivers reach age 60, their rates begin to climb again, and after age 69 they make a big leap. Drivers 70 and over pay $205 more per year, on average, than their counterparts one decade younger.

Though older drivers are generally charged more for their policies, auto insurance companies aren’t necessarily content with how much they can charge these customers. Since insurance prices are regulated by the state, insurers must petition the state in which they operate (or all states in which they operate for national companies) when they want to raise rates on a certain demographic.

This summer, Progressive petitioned the state of Maine to raise rates for drivers over 65 in a move the Portland Press Herald calls “unprecedented.” In the paperwork, Progressive details that they’d like to be able to charge new customers who are 65 years old 6% more than they would have charged that same customer had they been 64. Nationally, most insurers don’t (and can’t, per regulations) charge customers more just because they’re older, but Progressive’s petition portends startling possibilities. As for why Progressive chose Maine, they didn’t say, but the Portland Press Herald speculates it could be because Maine had the highest percentage in the nation of drivers over 65 involved in fatal crashes during 2012 and 2013.

 

Would you ever confront a loved one whose driving has become a safety concern? Do you think age should be considered an auto insurance rating factor?