In-person driver's license renewal associated with lower death rate among elderly drivers


States with in-person license renewal policies had a 17 percent lower fatality rate among drivers 85 years and older than states without, according to a study in the June 16 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

According to background information in the article, motor vehicle death rates among older drivers have been increasing over the past two decades and are expected to account for up to 25 percent of total driver deaths in the year 2030, compared to 14 percent currently. In addition, elderly drivers have more deadly crashes per mile driven than any other group except teenage males.

David C. Grabowski, Ph.D., and colleagues from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, conducted a study examining states' license-renewal laws and fatal motor vehicle accidents involving older drivers in the United States. The researchers used data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), collected from January 1990 to December 2000 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which includes in-depth information on cars, drivers, and passengers involved in fatal motor vehicle accidents. In addition to in-person renewal laws, the researchers also studied the effect of vision tests, roads tests, and frequency of license renewal on elderly driver deaths.

There were 4,605 driver fatalities throughout the 11-year study period for drivers 85 years of age or older. The researchers found that states with mandated in-person license renewal laws had a 17 percent lower death rate among this age group than those states without such laws. However, the researchers also found that "vision tests, road tests, and more frequent renewals [were] not independently associated with additional safety benefits." In 2000, 45 states had in-person renewal laws, 40 states required vision tests and 2 states required road tests at the time of license renewal for older drivers.

"It is important to note that in-person renewal allows driver license examiners the opportunity to refer certain older drivers for medical evaluation, and some of these evaluations may include more sophisticated testing such as neurological examinations, comprehensive visual examinations, simulator tests, and road tests," the authors write. " the results of this study support the importance of in-person license renewal for older adults as a potential mechanism toward decreasing the fatality crash rate among the oldest old drivers." (JAMA. 2004; 291: 2840-2846. Available post-embargo at

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