My husband turns 78 this month, and the state of California says he must be retested if he wants to keep driving a car. My husband is an active guy in good health who chauffeurs our two children -- and other people's kids -- all over the place, so I don't actually have a problem with the state wanting to be sure he is an able driver.
I just want them to test all the other carpool moms too. I think bad drivers come in many sizes of yoga pants, and it is ageist to assume that, at 78, my husband needs to be retested based solely on that factor. California joins 27 other states (plus the District of Columbia) in imposing additional requirements on its older drivers who want to renew their licenses, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In some cases, states shorten the period the license is valid so you need to renew more frequently; in other cases -- like California -- they require that you appear in person so they can test your vision and give you a written test again to make sure you haven't forgotten the roadway rules.
In the District of Columbia -- where the expression "70 is the new 50" apparently hasn't caught on yet -- you need not just a vision test once you hit 70 but also a note from your doctor saying you are physically and mentally competent to drive. And then there's Maryland, which retests the vision of everyone 40 and older -- something that happens in nearby Virginia but not until people are 80. Are Maryland drivers that much blinder than Virginia's? Methinks those two states don't talk much.
There are some other quirks related to age as well. In Tennessee, there's a senior citizen discount on renewal fees for drivers 60 or older and for those 65, your license never expires. In North Carolina, if you are 60, you don't have to pass the parallel parking part of the road test; I know some teenagers who'd love that break -- heck, I'm looking into retiring there for that perk alone.
Truth is, it's all pretty confusing and -- dare I say -- inconsistent. When it comes to aging, why should motor vehicle laws vary state-by-state anyway? Don't we all pretty much age the same, regardless of where we live?
And then of course there is the perennial argument about who wrecks more havoc on the roads -- the old or the young? I know I'm going to hate myself in the morning for opening this can of worms, but the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety -- the authority on road havoc -- says that there are more collision claims filed for every 100 insured cars driven by 16-year-olds than by 85-year-olds. The number of claims per hundred is 11.9 for the young teens versus 9.7 for the seniors. They say that measuring collision claims -- instead of police reports -- gives a clearer picture of what's occurring on our roadways because not every accident is reported to the police.
States may impose license restrictions on a driver of any age, but restrictions are imposed mostly on teenagers and older drivers, notes the IIHS. And no state may restrict older drivers based on age alone; they need to find them impaired in some way -- which arguably comes from the additional testing required of seniors.
Which leads to a broader point: The last boomer turns 65 in 2030 -- which means one driver in four will be 65 or older. What exactly are communities doing about planning for it, besides trying to test the eyesight of every 40-year-old in Maryland? Staying independent is inextricably linked to continuing to drive because public transportation pretty much doesn't exist in most places. The top crash culprits for older drivers, says AARP, are left turns and bad intersections. Yet I don't see us busy making road changes, things like adding left-turn lanes, left-turn signals and roundabouts, or improving lighting and enlarging street signs. These things would improve road safety for everyone -- not just the coming age boom.
As AARP's Nancy Thompson notes, "Alternatives like mass transit, driving services and neighborhoods geared toward life without a car are key to ensuring that people remain productive, happy and connected to their family, friends, and community."
She adds, "Each of us also needs to take responsibility for keeping up our own driving skills and monitoring those of family members, whether young or old." To this end, AARP offers a free online seminar called We Need to Talk to help families have a discussion about safe driving.
As for my husband, I am pleased to report that he passed his test and got his license renewed. Yoga pants moms, your children are safe with him driving. But do me a favor, if you want to text him your congrats, please pull over first.