In-Person License Renewal

In Goodwin, Kirley, et al., 2013, this intervention also includes vision testing. The write-up below concentrates on in-person renewal only.

Driver’s licenses in most states are valid for 4 to 6 years, longer in a few States. To renew an expiring license, drivers in many States must appear in person, pay the license fee, and have new pictures taken for their licenses. Some states allow all drivers to renew by mail or electronically. (Goodwin, Kirley, et al., 2013, p. 7-22)

More than half the states change license renewal requirements for drivers older than a specified age, typically 65 or 70. These changes may include a shorter interval between renewals, in-person renewal (no renewal by mail or electronically), or a vision test at every renewal. (Goodwin, Kirley, et al., 2013, p. 7-22)

License examiners report that the driver’s appearance at the motor vehicle office is the single most important criterion for identifying a person of any age whose driving skills may be impaired ([I. Potts, Stutts, et al., 2004]). This observation is supported by Morrisey and Grabowski (2005), who found that in-person license renewal was associated with reduced traffic fatalities among the oldest drivers. Frequent in-person renewals and vision tests may be more useful for older drivers than for younger drivers because their abilities may change more quickly. AAMVA recommends that all drivers renew licenses in-person and pass a vision test at least every 4 years (Staplin and Lococo, 2003; Stutts et al., 2005). Very few states meet these recommendations for all drivers. In-person renewals would be even more useful, for drivers of all ages, if they included functional ability tests as recommended in the NHTSA-AAMVA Model Driver Screening and Evaluation Program Guidelines for Motor Vehicle Administrators (Staplin and Lococo, 2003) . . . . (Goodwin, Kirley, et al., 2013, p. 7-22)

History

Some states have been licensing drivers since the 1900s, although, in many states, there was a considerable gap between the first driver’s license law and the requirement that a driver pass a license examination. Several states did not require examinations until the 1950s (FHWA, 1995, Table DL-230).

Use

At least 30 States and the District of Columbia have different license renewal requirements for older rather than for younger drivers. These include 18 states with a shorter interval between renewals, 9 that require in-person renewals, 10 plus the District of Columbia that require vision tests at renewal, and 2 states that require road tests for applicants 75 and older. On the other hand, Oklahoma and Tennessee reduce or waive licensing fees for older drivers and Tennessee driver’s licenses issued to people 65 or older do not expire (AAA Public Affairs, 2010; [IIHS, 2015]). In 2001, about 12 States met the [AAMVA] recommendations of in-person renewal with a vision test, at least every 4 years for all drivers over some specified age (Staplin and Lococo, 2003). See also the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety ([undated]) “Driver Licensing Policies and Practices” database showing each State’s driver licensing policies and practices including license renewal requirements for all drivers and, where applicable, older drivers as well. (Goodwin, Kirley, et al., 2013, p. 7-22)

Effectiveness

License examiners report that in-person renewals and vision tests are effective in identifying people whose driving skills may be impaired ([I. Potts, Stutts, et al., 2004]). No data are available on the number of potentially impaired drivers identified through these practices or on the effects of more frequent renewals and vision tests on crashes. (Goodwin, Kirley, et al., 2013, pp. 7-22–7-23)

Grabowski, Campbell, and Morrisey, 2004, compares policies in different states; the authors found that

[i]n-person license renewal was related to a significantly lower fatality rate among the oldest old drivers [85 and up]. More stringent state licensure policies such as vision tests, road tests, and more frequent license renewal cycles were not independently associated with additional benefits. (p. 2840)

Sharp and Johnson, 2005, compares 15 states based on their licensing procedures as they affect drivers over 70. The authors found that the longer the renewal cycle, the higher the elderly crash rate. Road tests tend to reduce the licensing rate. The effect of requiring in-person testing and administering a written test or a road test (not just a vision test) is twice as large (in terms of lowering crashes) as increasing the amount of time between testing, which tends to increase elderly crashes.

Measuring Effectiveness

Effectiveness of in-person license renewal can be measured by the number of people who decline to renew. One effect of these laws is that they discourage license renewal by people whose driving abilities might have declined. Effectiveness can also be measured in crash or fatality rates, particularly among older drivers.

Costs

More-frequent license renewals or additional testing at renewal impose direct costs on driver licensing agencies. For example, a State that reduces the renewal time from 6 years to 3 years for drivers 65 and older would approximately double the licensing agency workload associated with these drivers. If 15 percent of licensed drivers in the State are 65 and older, then the agency’s overall workload would increase by about 15 percent to process the renewals. If more frequent renewals and vision tests identify more drivers who require additional screening and assessment, then additional costs are imposed. (Goodwin, Kirley, et al., 2013, p. 7-23)

Time to Implement

A change in the renewal interval can be implemented within months. The new requirements will not apply to all drivers for several years, until all currently valid licenses have expired and drivers appear at the driver licensing agency for licensing renewal. (Goodwin, Kirley, et al., 2013, p. 7-23)

Other Issues

Age Discrimination

As of 2013, five states explicitly prohibit using age by itself as a justification for reexamining a driver’s qualifications (Teigen and Shinkle, 2014). These laws differ slightly from state to state. Some have argued that it would be better to move toward a cognitive-based rather than age-based screening approach for license renewal (Langford, Methorst, and Hakamies-Blomqvist, 2006; Chaudhary, Ledingham, et al., 2013) to improve the effectiveness and fairness of such a policy.

Table B.9. State Laws on In-Person Renewal Requirements and Renewal Cycle, for All Drivers and Older Drivers, 2009
State Standard In-Person Renewal Requirements Older-Driver In-Person Renewal Requirements Age-Based Requirements Standard Renewal Cycle Older-Driver Renewal Cycle
Ala. Every renewal Same None 4 years Same
Alaska Every other renewal Every renewal ages 69+ In-person renewal 5 years Same
Ariz. Every renewal Same (every renewal ages 70+) More-frequent renewal, in-person renewal, vision testing 12 years (photo update only) 5 years starting at age 65
Ark. Every renewal Same None 4 years Same
Calif. Every 3rd renewal with good driving record Every renewal ages 70+ In-person renewal 5 years Same
Colo. Every other renewal Same Vision testing 5 years Same
Conn. Every renewal (includes locations other than DMV) Same None 4 or 6 years at driver’s option 2-year option available starting at age 65
Del. Every renewal Same None 8 years Same
D.C. Every other renewal Every renewal age 70 and over Medical report 8 years Same
Fla. Every other renewal Same More-frequent renewal, vision testing 8 years 6 years starting at age 80
Ga. Every renewal Same More-frequent renewal 5 or 8 years 5 years starting at age 60
Hawaii Every renewal Same More-frequent renewal 8 years 2 years starting at age 72
Idaho Every 8 years Every 4 years ages 70+ More-frequent renewal, in-person renewal 4 or 8 years (option of driver) 4 years starting at age 63
Ill. Every other renewal Every renewal ages 75+ More-frequent renewal, in-person renewal, road test 4 years 2 years ages 81–86, then 1 year ages 87+
Ind. Every other renewal Same More-frequent renewal 6 years 3 years ages 75–84, then 2 years ages 85+
Iowa Every renewal Same More-frequent renewal 8 years 2 years starting at age 72
Kan. Every renewal ages 70+ Same More-frequent renewal 6 years 4 years starting at age 65
Ky. Every renewal with some exceptions Same None 4 years Same
La. Every other renewal Every renewal ages 70+ In-person renewal 4 years Same
Maine Every other renewal Every renewal ages 62+ More-frequent renewal, in-person renewal, vision testing 6 years 4 years starting at age 65
Md. 8 years, at least every other has to be in person Same None 8 years Same
Mass. Every other renewal Every renewal, ages 75+ More-frequent renewal 5 years Same
Mich. Every other renewal Same None 4 years Same
Minn. Every renewal Same None 4 years Same
Miss. Every other renewal Every renewal ages 71+ In-person renewal 4 years Same
Mo. Every renewal Same More-frequent renewal 6 years 3 years starting at age 70
Mont. Every other renewal Every renewal ages 75+ More-frequent renewal, in-person renewal 8 years 4 years starting at age 75
Neb. Every other renewal Same None 5 years Same
Nev. Every other renewal Same None 4 years Same
N.H. Every renewal (every other renewal if eligible for online renewal) Same None 5 years Same
N.J. Every renewal Same None 4 years Same
N.M. Every renewal Same More-frequent renewal 4 or 8 years (option of the driver) 4 years ages 71–74, then 1 year ages 75+
N.Y. Optional; if not in person, must submit vision report Same None 8 years Same
N.C. Every renewal Same More-frequent renewal 8 years 5 years starting at age 66
N.D. Every renewal Same None 6 years 4 years starting at age 78
Ohio Every renewal Same None 4 years Same
Okla. Every renewal (at tag agencies) Same None 4 years Same
Ore. Every renewal Same Vision testing 8 years Same
Pa. Not required Same None 4 years 2-year option starting at age 65
R.I. Every renewal Same More-frequent renewal 5 years 2 years starting at age 75
S.C. Every other renewal if clean record Same More-frequent renewal 10 years 5 years starting at age 65
S.D. Every renewal Same None 5 years Same
Tenn. Every other renewal Same None 5 years Same
Texas Every other renewal Every renewal for ages 79+ More-frequent renewal, in-person renewal 6 years 2 years starting at age 85
Utah Every renewal Same Vision testing 5 years Same
Vt. Optional (if photo in past 8 years) Same None 2 or 4 years (option of driver) Same
Va. Every other renewal Every renewal ages 80+ In-person renewal 8 years Same
Wash. Every other renewal In person every renewal ages 70+ Electronic renewal up to age 70 5 years Same
W.Va. Every renewal Same None 5 years Same
Wis. Every renewal Same None 8 years Same
Wyo. Every other renewal Same None 4 years Same

SOURCE: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, undated.

 

Population Growth

The population of older drivers is projected to increase significantly over time. Estimates suggest that by 2030, 70 million people in the United States will be older than 65, which translates into 25 percent of drivers (K. Wilson, 2007). The controversy around requiring in-person renewal based solely on age will likely grow as a result.


CDC Vital Signs: Motor Vehicle Crash Deaths. In 2013, the US crash death rate was more than twice the average of other high-income countries. www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/motor-vehicle-safety