Senior Drivers in California
In addition to being a convenience and an enjoyable activity for many people, driving is also a symbol of one's independence. As we age, there are a numerous factors that can affect our driving skills, and hinder our ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. The California Department of Motor Vehicles wants older drivers to maintain their driving independence as long as they continue to drive safely and confidently.
LICENSE RENEWAL FOR SENIOR DRIVERS
California drivers who are 70 years of age or older at the time their current driver license expires are generally required to renew their license in person at a local DMV office. In addition to taking a vision test (see below), you may in certain situations be asked to take a written knowledge test as well. In preparation for this, you can review the California Drivers Handbook and take practice tests before going for your license renewal. For faster service at the DMV, you can make an appointment for your visit online, or call 800-921-1117 or 800-777-0133.
THE VISION TEST
Most senior drivers in California who renew their license in person will be asked to undergo a basic vision test to ensure they are able to safely operate a motor vehicle. If you wear eyeglasses, be sure to bring them with you to the DMV. In addition, if you haven't had your vision checked recently, or if you believe your eyesight has worsened, we recommend that you make an appointment with your vision specialist before visiting the DMV.
The California DMV's vision standard is 20/40, and if you do not meet the standard you will be issued a Report of Vision Examination and referred to a licensed vision specialist. Please note the following if you are referred to a vision specialist:
- If you received the Report of Vision Examination during a DMV visit to renew your license, you will be issued a temporary, 30-day license, provided that your eyesight is 20/70 or better in both eyes. The temporary license will enable you to see a vision specialist.
- The vision specialist (a licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist) will perform a full vision examination and assess whether your eyesight permits you to drive safely. Bring the Report of Vision Examination, completed by the vision specialist, back to your local DMV office.
- The vision specialist may prescribe eyeglasses or another type of vision correction. Since the California Department of Motor Vehicles will need to retest your vision, make sure to carry out the vision specialist's recommendations before returning to the DMV
When you return to the DMV for another vision test, your Report of Vision Examination will be reviewed. If you pass the subsequent DMV vision test, your driver license renewal will be granted (with a corrective lens restriction, if neccesary). In the event that you fail the subsequent DMV vision test, you will need to take a driving test known as the Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation (see below). This test is used to determine whether you can compensate for your vision condition while driving. Your driver license will be renewed if you pass this driving test.
THE SUPPLEMENTAL DRIVING PERFORMANCE EVALUATION
Senior drivers are sometimes asked to take a specific driving test - the Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation - to determine whether they are able to safely operate a motor vehicle. Failing this test, which may be given to drivers of any age, could result in your license being restricted, suspended or revoked. Most commonly, the test is given in one of the following situations:
- A driver fails to meet the DMV's vision standard, or
- A driver may lack certain driving skills, or have another physical or psychological condition that hinders his or her driving abilities.
To prepare for the test, many older drivers choose to enroll in a driver's education program or driving school for seniors to brush up their skills. If you pass the Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation, you will be able to keep or renew your California driver license.
THE DMV REEXAMINATION
A DMV reexamination is when a person's driving skills must be reevaluated based on one or more factors, including the driver's physical or mental condition, or driving record. A DMV reexamination may be recommended by a family member, physical or emergency medical technician, or peace officer. Other times, information in your license renewal application or on your driving record may prompt a reexamination.
The reexamination involves the immediate evaluation of an individual by a DMV Driver Safety hearing officer. It consists of an interview, and may also involve a vision test, a written test, and/or a driving test. Following the reexamination, the hearing officer will decide whether any action should be taken regarding your driving privilege, such as restrictions, probation, suspension or revocation.
THE RESTRICTED DRIVER LICENSE
Sometimes, a physical or mental condition can impair a driver's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. The most common of these conditions is poor vision, but others which may be age-related include cognitive skills like memory, coordination and flexibility.
In some circumstances, older drivers may have a restriction placed on their driver license. The types of restrictions vary, and are based on the results of your vision test, driving test, and the driving examiner's assessment. A restricted driver license is intended to ensure that you are driving within your abilities. Some of the most common license restrictions are those that:
- Require eyeglasses, corrective contact lenses, or bioptic telescopic lens to be worn at certain times.
- Permit driving from sunrise to sunset only, or prohibit driving during rush hour.
- Restrict the geographical area in which a person is permitted to drive, or prohibit freeway driving.
- Require special mechanical devices, or an additional side mirror on the vehicle.
- Require extra support in order to ensure a safe and correct driving position.