Motor vehicles are one of the leading causes of injury-related deaths for individuals ages 65 and older. The population of Americans over age 65 was 52.4 million people—16% of the total U.S. population—in 2018. Older drivers made up 20% of all licensed drivers, but only 14% of drivers involved in fatal traffic crashes in 2018.
NHTSA data from 2019 reports a 33.5% increase in the population of Americans over age 65 between 2010 and 2019 and a 37.4% increase in licensed drivers between 2009 and 2018. According to the American Geriatrics Society (AGS), the predicted number of Americans over age 65 will double by 2060, and the distances they travel are expected to continue increasing.
In 2018, according to NHTSA, 6,907 people 65 and older were killed and an estimated 276,000 injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes. Older people made up 19% of all traffic fatalities and 10% of all people injured during the year. NHTSA data also indicates older driver fatalities increased by 23% (from 3,307 to 4,298) between 2009 and 2018.
AAA reports older drivers are more likely to have underlying medical conditions that potentially affect their safe driving skills. This is partially explained by fragility increasing in tandem with age, along with declining functions potentially interfering with an older driver’s safe driving skills. NHTSA notes this increased fragility generally begins to show up in crash data around 75 years old, increasing for drivers over 85 years old.
Periodic Professional Driving Assessment
Medical conditions potentially affecting a driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle include vision, hearing, reaction time, and cognitive and motor abilities. Other conditions such as dementia, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea and Parkinson’s disease may also potentially interfere with a person’s ability to drive safely. To help mitigate potential concerns, AAA and AGS recommend that older drivers undergo a periodic professional driving assessment. This is designed to not only help older drivers correct possible shortcomings via specialized driver training plans, but to also help such drivers continue driving safely as an option.
Existing state legislation regarding older drivers mostly focuses on decreasing periods between license renewals and requiring more frequent vision tests for drivers over a certain age. Many states also bar older drivers from renewing their driver’s license by mail or online.
When addressing older driver traffic safety legislation, states have to balance safety with individual rights and freedoms. Setting aside vision requirements, determining when an older person is no longer able to drive safely depends on a variety of factors. In this regard, state legislation is purposefully broad and generally provides discretion to medical providers when making such a decision.
In 2020, at least two states—Idaho and New York—enacted legislation regarding older drivers.
Idaho (HB 497) established the Yellow Dot Motor Vehicle Medical Information Act. The new law provides “yellow dots” on motor vehicles, as well as a form with medical information that can be used by first responders on the scene of an accident or other emergency situation. Participants will receive a “yellow dot” decal and folder, as well as a medical information sheet to place in their glove compartment. The decal will be placed in the back window of a participant’s vehicle. Specific information will include the name, photo, relevant medical conditions, hospital preference, two physicians and the date the form was completed. The new law also provided a limitation of liability for first responders and health care workers relying in good faith on information the form contains.
New York (AB 8983) clarified driver’s license qualification procedures following evidence of “loss of consciousness,” including the suspension or denial of a driver’s license from persons who experienced a loss of consciousness. Evidence of “loss of consciousness” may be obtained from a law enforcement agency, police accident report or physicians, physician assistants or nurse practitioners. Drivers are required to be medically cleared before returning to the road.
Additionally, at least 10 states—Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia—considered legislation that was not enacted regarding older drivers. The range of topics included “yellow dot” programs, medical designations on driver’s licenses and older driver reexaminations.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia licensed nearly 229 million drivers, representing roughly 70% of the U.S. population in 2019, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). States have administered driver’s licensing systems since 1903 when Massachusetts and Missouri enacted the first laws governing driver’s licenses. Every state required drivers to be licensed by 1954 and mandated examinations testing both driving skills and traffic safety knowledge by 1959.
The role of state licensing agencies has evolved from solely testing drivers and issuing licenses. The driver’s license now serves a purpose beyond traffic safety, as both government and private entities rely on it for personal identification. Thus, state legislatures and driver’s license agencies are concerned about the safety and security of using the license as an identifier.
In 2020, state legislatures debated nearly 700 bills regarding driver’s licenses, with at least 28 states enacting 45 new laws. The most common subjects included commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs), driver’s licenses and instruction permits, digital driver’s licenses, medical designations on driver’s licenses and driver’s license suspensions, revocations and restorations. The bills summarized in this section largely focus on notable changes concerning traffic safety.
Commercial Driver’s Licenses
At least 10 states—California, Delaware, Hawaii, Michigan, Mississippi, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming—enacted legislation addressing CDLs in 2020. The provisions of such laws ranged from issuance and revocation to knowledge and skills testing.
Two states—California and Washington—approved laws authorizing waivers from knowledge or skills testing for current and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces. California (AB 2141) authorized knowledge and skills tests, as well as hazardous materials, tank vehicle or passenger endorsements, to be waived for current or former military service members who have related experience operating. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a passenger endorsement is required for commercial vehicle operators transporting 16 or more passengers. Washington (HB 2188) authorized the knowledge test to be waived for current or former military service members. Previously, the law only waived the skills test.
Delaware (SB 227) and Wyoming (HB 7) allowed a commercial learner’s permit to be issued for a period of one-year. Previously, the laws in both states limited issuance to six months. Michigan’s law (SB 876) extended the expiration date for CDLs from July 1, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2020.
Mississippi (HB 1371) required the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to provide online CDL renewals if such renewal meets standards set forth under federal law. The new law further directed state DMV to upload medical information within five days of receipt. Hawaii (SB 2993) repealed its law which allowed CDL medical waivers for diabetes. Virginia (SB 290) allowed its DMV to administer skills performance evaluations under its agreement with FMCSA. The law also allowed medical information to be released by Virginia’s DMV as part of that agreement when issuing a CDL or learner’s permit.
West Virginia (HB 4478) enacted a lifetime disqualification for CDL holders who use a commercial vehicle to commit a felony involving human trafficking or controlled substances.
Wisconsin (SB 523) allowed commercial vehicle operators to transport hazardous materials within 150 miles of their farm. Operators are required to be farmers, family members or employees of the farm.
Driver’s Licenses and Instruction Permits
Legislatures were busy addressing legislation regarding non-commercial driver’s licenses and instruction permits in 2020. At least 11 states—Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia—enacted such laws.
Four states—Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Nebraska—passed laws addressing online or mobile issuance of driver’s licenses and identification cards. Kentucky (HB 453) allowed online and mobile services to facilitate the issuance of driver’s licenses and identification cards. Mississippi (HB 1371) required the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission to implement an online driver’s license and driver permitting system. Missouri (HB 1963) provided for a remote driver’s license renewal system. Nebraska (LB 944) allowed driver’s licenses and identification cards to be delivered electronically upon request of an applicant.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, two states—Michigan and New Jersey—temporarily extended the expiration date for driver’s licenses. Michigan approved six laws (SB 876; SB 877; SB 878; HB 5756; HB 5757; HB 6192) that extended the expiration date in which driver’s licenses, identification cards and enhanced driver’s licenses were considered valid during the COVID-19 state of emergency from March 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2020. The new laws also prohibited the secretary of state from assessing late renewal fees for driver or identification credentials that expired on or after March 1, 2020 and were renewed before Dec. 11, 2020. New Jersey (AB 4520) temporarily extended driver’s license deadlines for new state residents. Additionally, the state (AB 4486) authorized its Motor Vehicle Commission to use stored driver’s license or identification card photos beyond eight years. Both laws expire at the end of the public health emergency caused by COVID-19.
Maryland passed a law (HB 28) which required law enforcement officers who confiscate a driver’s license for failure to submit documents related to the issuance of a driver’s license to provide the license holder with a recall notice using a form developed by the state’s Motor Vehicle Administration. The written notice shall include the reason the license was confiscated, a statement that the individual’s driving privileges have not been revoked, instructions on how the individual may submit the required documents and the date such recall notice was issued. The law also allowed drivers to satisfy the requirements to possess and display a driver’s license while operating a vehicle by instead carrying and displaying a recall notice issued within the previous 60 days. Previously, the law allowed 90 days.
Tennessee (SB 1643) rejoined the Interstate Driver’s License Compact to address compliance with traffic safety laws in participating jurisdictions. The new law also provided for reporting traffic convictions and new driver’s license applicants. The state dropped out of the compact in 1997, according to AAMVA. Provisions addressed reporting convictions, the effects of convictions and new license applications. Further, reports must clearly identify the person convicted, describe the violation, identify the court in which action was taken and indicate whether a plea of guilty or not guilty was entered. Currently 46 states are members of the compact. States that are not members of the Compact include Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Driver’s License Compact
The purpose of this compact is for states to exchange driver’s license suspension and traffic violation information, such as speeding, reckless driving, vehicle manslaughter and DUI offenses, from non-residents with their home state. The compact is used by states to impose penalties or restrictions required by their laws for offenses committed in other states, as well as prior offenses for recidivists. AAMVA notes it was created to “provide uniformity among member jurisdictions on convictions, records, licenses, withdrawals and other data pertinent to the licensing process.” By doing so, the compact is intended to ease administrative costs consistent with its motto, “One Driver, One License, One Record.”
Idaho (HB 332) authorized agents of the state DMV to issue driver’s licenses and learner’s permits. Specific services include application and identification card information such as residence, height and weight, eye color and social security number.
Oklahoma (HB 4161) directed the state’s Department of Public Safety to implement REAL ID by June 30, 2021. Oklahoma’s other new law (SB 408) established a misdemeanor offense for operating a motor vehicle without the proper endorsement. Specific endorsements include motorcycle, tank vehicle, passenger, school bus, double or triple trailers and hazmat transport.
Virginia (HB 1211/SB 34) authorized driver privilege cards and permits to be issued to applicants who do not meet the requirements for a regular driver’s license or permit. According to Virginia’s DMV, driver privilege credentials may be issued to individuals who are non-U.S. citizens. Applicants must be non-U.S. citizens and residents of Virginia, reported income from Virginia or be claimed as a dependent on a tax return within the past 12 months and their driving privileges cannot be currently suspended or revoked in Virginia or any other state. Applicants must pay a $50 fee and are not required to present proof of legal presence in the United States. The driver privilege card expires on an applicant’s second birthday following the date of issuance. The commonwealth’s DMV is prohibited from releasing information about minor applicants unless it is requested by a parent or guardian, an authorized representative or pursuant to a court order.
Digital Driver’s Licenses
Louisiana became the first state to enact legislation allowing a digital driver’s license in 2016. It expanded the law in 2018 by requiring digital licenses to be uploaded through a specific mobile device application to be a valid digitized identification. At least 16 other states have developed or are developing a digital driver’s license program or running a pilot program.
In 2020, at least one state—Wyoming—approved legislation authorizing digital driver’s licenses and identification cards. Wyoming’s new law (HB 5) required an applicant for a digital license to already hold a physical license unless one is issued simultaneously. The law also allows the state’s DMV to digitally cancel, suspend, return or reinstate a license, as well as electronically notify a licensee 120 days prior to a license’s expiration. Further, licensees may electronically return an extension application 30 days before a license expires.
Medical Designation on Driver’s Licenses
In the last few years, a handful of states have considered or passed legislation that would allow for medical or emergency information to be displayed on a driver’s license. For example, states such as Georgia and Louisiana allow driver’s license applicants to indicate blood type on the back of their license. Moreover, in Texas, driver’s license applicants can request a “communication impediment” designation on their license to alert law enforcement or emergency responders of a cognitive disability or hearing impairment. Bills summarized in this section relate to medical designations. Bills specifically regarding older drivers are summarized in the Older Drivers section.
At least four states—Florida, Louisiana, Michigan and Washington—enacted laws allowing medical designations on driver’s licenses in 2020.
Florida (HB 787) allowed applicants who have a developmental disability to request the capital letter “D” to be shown on their driver’s license if they submit medical proof. Louisiana (HB 317) allowed a driver’s license applicant to request an autism spectrum disorder designation on their driver’s license. The applicant is required to submit a statement from a qualified medical or mental health professional. Further, the state’s Department of Public Safety and Corrections was required to implement a law enforcement training course on officer interaction with persons who have autism spectrum disorder.
Michigan approved three new laws (SB 278; SB 279; HB 5541) allowing an individual applying for or renewing a vehicle registration, driver’s license, identification card or an enhanced credential to elect to have a communication impediment designation associated with their records. The laws also required implementation of a process that would allow law enforcement agencies to access and view a communication impediment designation.
Enhanced Driver’s Licenses
At least five states—Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington—issue enhanced licenses. These licenses serve to verify a person’s identity and U.S. citizenship status by using a radio frequency identity chip embedded in the card. They also offer a convenient alternative to passports when entering the United States at land or sea border crossings from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Washington (SB 6429) allowed applicants to obtain a medical alert, developmental disability or deafness designation on a driver’s license or identification card. To do so, an applicant must voluntarily self-attest or provide other information verifying the condition. Any information is confidential and can only be accessed by the state’s DMV, law enforcement agencies and emergency medical service providers.
Driver’s License Suspension, Revocation and Restoration
In recent years, state legislatures have considered repealing laws that suspend driver’s licenses, particularly for non-payment of fines and fees and other offenses that are not related to driving behavior. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators notes that suspending driving privileges for non-highway safety-related reasons is not effective, can strain DMV budgets and detract from public safety priorities.
Non-driving offenses are violations that are not directly related to an individual’s driving behavior. These include parking violations, possessing or selling drugs, and non-payment of child support or fines and fees when the underlying offense is not a moving violation. The lack of a driver’s license can make it harder for individuals to meet their financial obligations when they are unable to drive to work. As a result, some states are reevaluating suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and fees unrelated to driving to reduce disparities, increase transparency and enhance procedural justice while also improving community safety.
Federal law (23 CFR 192) requires states to suspend or revoke the driver’s license of anyone convicted of a violation of the Controlled Substance Act or any drug offense. States can lose federal highway money if they are not in compliance. However, states can opt out by submitting a certified statement from the governor or a resolution passed by the state legislature.
Virginia became the latest state to do so, amending its law to delete provisions that allowed driver’s license suspensions for persons convicted of drug offenses in 2020. Currently, 44 states and Washington, D.C., have opted out of the federal requirement. Six states—Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey and Texas—still suspend driver’s licenses for drug offenses unrelated to driving.
License Suspension and Revocation
License revocation is a termination of the privilege to drive. License suspension is a temporary withdrawal of the privilege to drive. Revocations and suspensions can be indefinite or for a defined period of time, and revocations can, in certain circumstances, be permanent. Restoration or reinstatement of the driving privilege generally refers to the process drivers must go through to have their driving privilege restored. Such a process can only be initiated after certain conditions have been satisfied.
License Suspension for Driving Offenses
Two states—Iowa and West Virginia—enacted legislation to establish alternatives or provide for more control when it comes to driver’s license suspension for driving offenses.
West Virginia (SB 130) revised procedures for driver’s license suspensions and revocations of persons charged with DUI and DUID. Previously, the DOT’s Office of Administrative Hearings would decide whether individuals charged but not convicted were subject to a driver’s license suspension. The new law now leaves that decision to the courts who must decide on a case-by-case basis during the criminal trial.
Iowa (SB 457) amended its law to require persons who violated traffic rules related to driving behavior when meeting a school bus, such as not reducing the vehicle’s speed when approaching a school bus with flashing warning lights or completely stopping when the school bus stop signal arm is extended, to complete a driver improvement program instead of having their driver’s license suspended.
License Suspension for Non-Driving Offenses
Four states—Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma and Virginia—no longer authorize or require driver’s license suspension for certain non-driving offenses, including illegal use or possession of drugs. Georgia, on the contrary, passed legislation to authorize or require suspension or revocation of driving privileges for certain non-driving offenses. Ohio authorized persons convicted of driving without appropriate insurance to file a petition for restricted driving privileges.
Illinois’ License to Work Act (SB 1786) repealed provisions permitting driver’s license suspensions for some truant minors. In addition, the new law prohibits the suspension or revocation of driving privileges without a preliminary hearing for certain persons, including persons with mental disabilities or diseases. Driver’s license suspensions for certain non-driving-related criminal activities are still possible, but stricter conditions must be met, such as exercising “actual physical control” over a vehicle while committing the offense. Persons who had their driver’s license suspended under circumstances that are no longer cause for suspension under the new law can have their driving privilege reinstated.
Indiana (HB 1157) repealed a provision authorizing courts to suspend the driver’s license of persons convicted of dealing with drugs when a motor vehicle was used when committing the offense.
Oklahoma (HB 1276) deleted language allowing the courts to revoke or suspend the driver’s license of a person who fails to pay child support or to submit to genetic testing to determine paternity.
Virginia (SB 513/ HB 909) deleted provisions that allowed driver’s license suspensions for persons convicted of drug offenses and for shoplifting gas.
Georgia (HB 823) enacted legislation requiring the revocation of the CDL of persons convicted of sexual or labor trafficking. Additionally, the offender will also be disqualified from receiving a CDL for life. Additionally, the Department of Driver Services is now authorized (SB 375) to withhold issuance or suspend the driver’s license for 45 days of a person younger than 21 who violated tobacco and vapor products laws and failed to comply with imposed community service.
Ohio (HB 158) authorized courts to grant limited driving privileges to first offenders whose driver’s license was suspended because of failure to maintain appropriate motor vehicle insurance. Petitioners for restricted driving privileges must provide proof of insurance and enroll in a driver’s license reinstatement fee payment plan. The filing fee can be waived for persons who qualify as indigent.
License Suspension for Failure to Pay Fines and Fees
In a continued trend, several states enacted legislation regarding driver’s license suspension for failure to pay fines and fees, independently of whether the underlying violation was a moving or non-moving violation, with some exceptions. A moving violation is any violation of the law committed by the driver of a vehicle while it is in motion.
At least nine states—Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia— repealed provisions authorizing driver’s license suspension for non-payment of fines and fees or amended their laws to allow for more lenient sanctions and additional payment options.
Hawaii (HB 2750) deleted all provisions that authorized restrictions on a person’s ability to obtain or renew a driver’s license because of unpaid civil fines. The new law will apply to citations issued on or after Nov. 1, 2020. Individuals who obtained citations before this date may petition the court to be able to obtain or renew their driver’s license. The prohibition does not apply to suspensions caused by excessive speeding, lack of motor vehicle insurance or non-compliance with a child support order.
Illinois’ License to Work Act (SB 1786) repealed provisions allowing license suspensions for failure to pay fees or civil penalties for most non-driving violations. Driver’s licenses are no longer suspended for failure to pay certain fines, such as parking or tollway tickets. Persons who had their driver’s license suspended under circumstances that are no longer cause for suspension under the new law can have their driving privilege reinstated.
Maine enacted a bill in 2018 that ended automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for failure to pay fines for nondriving-related offenses. Legislation enacted this year (HB 1397) made the change permanent. Previous law required restricted licenses for persons who failed to pay fines for nondriving-related fines. The new law removed this portion and now allows debtors to keep their full driving privileges.
Maryland (SB 234) restricted the ability of the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) to suspend driver’s licenses for non-payment of traffic fines and fees, including failure to make a payment for an installment plan made with a court. Instead of suspending the license, a court may refer the unpaid amount to the Central Collection Unit. The law also reduced the fine threshold to enter into an installment plan from $300 to $150 and allowed judges to determine the payment period at their discretion. The new provisions apply retroactively to any eligible active suspension. The Department of Legislative Services must study the feasibility of eliminating the minimum amount to enter into an installment plan and what additional changes can further minimize driver’s license suspension because of criminal justice-related debt.
New York (AB 7463) limited the grounds for driver’s license suspension. An individual’s driver’s license can no longer be suspended for a first failure to appear related to violations of certain traffic laws or for failure to pay fines imposed for such violations. Suspensions made under the previous law must be terminated, and all penalties and fees associated with the terminated suspensions will be waived. Additionally, the law required the establishment of income-based payment plans at no charge for individuals who violated traffic laws and owe fines, fees and mandatory surcharges. Required monthly payments under the plans may not exceed 2% of the person’s monthly net income or $10, whichever is greater. Persons who were assessed a fine or fee must be provided with several forms of notice of the availability of a payment plan.
North Carolina (SB 488) authorized persons whose driver’s license was suspended because of failure to pay traffic-related fines and fees to petition the courts for a limited driving privilege. The limited privilege would be valid for up to one year and can be requested only once within three years.
Oregon (HB 4210) removed the authority of courts to impose regular and commercial driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay traffic-related fines or comply with alternative requirements ordered instead of fines starting on Oct. 1, 2020.
Virginia (SB 1/ HB 1196) repealed driver’s license suspensions for persons who fail or refuse to pay fines and fees related to any violation. The DMV must reinstate driver’s license suspended for non-payment of fines and fees before July 1, 2019, without charging any reinstatement fees. Enacted legislation (SB 513/ HB 909) also deleted provisions that allowed driver’s license suspensions for persons who failed to pay fees owed to correctional facilities.
West Virginia (HB 4958) eliminated driver’s license suspension for failure to pay court fines and fees. The new law also requires court clerks to set up payment plans for individuals who sign an affidavit stating that they are unable to pay. Courts are authorized to review the reasonableness of the payment plan and waive or convert outstanding costs to community service. Persons whose driver’s license was suspended before July 1, 2020, for non-payment of fines and fees can have their license reinstated if they establish a payment plan.
Reinstatement of Driving Privileges
Three states—Georgia, Indiana and Ohio—enacted legislation that permits or facilitates reinstatement of driving privileges under certain circumstances.
Georgia (HB 799) repealed a provision prohibiting persons convicted of driving under the influence of drugs from obtaining early reinstatement or a limited driving permit.
Indiana (SB 39) authorized judges to determine the period for which they will grant restricted driving privileges to persons whose driver’s license was suspended and set periodic review hearings to assess the situation. Previously courts were bound by statutory time limitations.
Ohio (HB 285) established a permanent Driver’s License Reinstatement Fee Debt Reduction and Amnesty Program, expanding the 2019 pilot program. Eligible persons can benefit once from a reduced reinstatement fee or receive a complete waiver based on their participation in specified government aid programs. Eligible offenses include traffic and non-traffic-related violations but do not include offenses that involve alcohol, drugs or weapons. Included traffic-related offenses are, for example, failure to pay specific traffic-related fines, operating a vehicle without proof of insurance, repeat traffic offender, reckless operation of a motor vehicle, use of a cellphone by a minor and failure to stop for a school bus. Rather than requiring the person to apply for the program, the director of public safety must identify eligible participants and send an automatic notification informing them of their enrollment in the program. Persons not automatically identified may apply. Additionally, the director must establish a toll-free number providing information about the program.
Miscellaneous Driver’s License Suspension Bills
Virginia (SB 711) eliminated the mandatory minimum term of confinement in jail of 10 days for a third or subsequent conviction of driving on a suspended license.
Wyoming (HB 12) eliminated the imprisonment penalty for persons who willfully failed to return their driver’s license or registration after suspension but maintained the maximum monetary penalty of $750.