Should You Be Driving?

Families argue like they've never argued before. Neighbors file complaints against neighbors. Doctors report their patients. Seniors rail against the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). What's causing all the heat? Driving.

Undoubtedly, there are older adults who are driving who should not be driving. And, there are older adults who have lost their licenses who should not have lost them. We have an imperfect system, that is facing an important issue.

Loss of driving privileges can be a major loss - and a major blow to the person's independence. It can severely limit a person's ability to perform tasks they've handled for years (working, shopping, volunteering, maintaining social connections, etc.). On the other hand, unsafe drivers can be a life-threatening danger to themselves and others.

This article gives answers to frequently asked questions about California's driving rules, and provides a few suggestions to help deal with driving-related concerns.

Can the DMV take my driving license away because of my age?

No, you will not lose the privilege to drive solely because of your age. However, once you turn 70 you must renew your license in person rather than by mail.

What types of medical conditions affect the ability to drive safely?

According to the California DMV any "disorder or condition that might interfere with alertness, strength, physical coordination, agility, judgment, attention, knowledge or skill necessary to safely operate a motor vehicle" is a concern to the DMV.

Chronological age is not a reliable measure of driving ability. In particular, the functional abilities of vision, attention, perceptual skills, decision-making, memory, reaction time and aspects of physical fitness and performance may affect driving safely. Since functional abilities can decline as we age, driving safely can require extra care by an older adult.

What can I do to make sure I can safely drive?

We have suggestions:

  • Listen to your friends, family and physicians if they express concern about safe driving.
  • If you are concerned about your health and driving, discuss this with your doctor.
  • Attend a driving course for mature drivers. Southern California courses include:
  • Driver Safety Classroom Care Locater
    AARP
    888-227-7669 or aarp.org/drive

Will my doctor report me to the DMV?

Medical doctors (for example, physicians, surgeons and psychiatrists) are required by law to report to a local health office patients who have been diagnosed with certain conditions, depending on the severity of symptoms. However, if the doctor informs the patient of the patient’s condition and the patient states that he or she does not intend to drive, the physician may choose not to report the patient.

Conditions that may trigger reporting include Alzheimer's disease and related disorders, seizure disorders, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, vascular dementia, brain tumors, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and abnormal metabolic states (including hypo-glycemia and hyperglycemia associated with diabetes). In addition, if the doctor reasonably and in good faith believes a patient's medical condition will impair safe driving, the doctor may choose to report the patient. Doctors are protected against civil and criminal liability for these confidential reports.

What happens when a doctor reports a patient?

Upon receiving the report, the DMV will provide to the patient a medical evaluation form. A patient who desires to continue driving must have the doctor complete the form, and then the patient must return to the DMV for testing. This is an opportunity for the DMV to evaluate the driving ability of the patient. There are several possible outcomes to this process:

  • Patient keeps license, or
  • Patient keeps license but is required to report changes in medical condition or provide an annual medical examination, or
  • The license is restricted (for example, to daytime driving only), or
  • The new license is limited (for example, for a one-year duration), or
  • The license is suspended or revoked.

What if the DMV refuses to renew or continue the driver's license?

If, after testing, the DMV suspends or revokes the license, the person has the right to request a hearing with the local Driver Safety Office. At the hearing, the person may present additional evidence regarding driving capabilities. The hearing must be requested within 10 days of the revocation or suspension of the license. If the person is denied a license at the initial hearing, he or she has the right to a second hearing with a different driving safety officer. The person may bring an attorney to the hearings.

May I report an unsafe driver to the DMV and, if I do, can I be sued?

It may be helpful to first try to discuss the issue with the driver. National studies indicate that of drivers who stop driving, 93% do so voluntarily.

Reports by Family Members: A spouse or family member (blood relatives within three degrees) can report the driver to the local DMV Driver Safety Office. If the reporting family member reasonably and in good faith believes that the person cannot safely operate a motor vehicle, the reporter is protected from civil and criminal liability. Any report by a family member should be based on "personal observation or physical evidence of a physical or medical condition that has the potential to impair the ability to drive safely, or upon personal knowledge of a driving record that, based on traffic citations or other evidence, indicates an unsafe driver." Upon receipt of this report, the DMV will require the driver to take a behind-the-wheel driving test.

Reports by Others: A non-family member may also file a report but does not receive protection from liability. The DMV may or may not require a behind-the-wheel test of the driver.

Confidentiality: In the report, you must state your relationship to the driver (if you are a family member) and your name (if you are not a family member). A family member need not sign the report, while all others must provide a signature. Any reporter may request that their report be kept confidential. However, the DMV may have to release the information if requested by a court. For reporting forms and related information contact the local Driver Safety Office.

For More Information

You can contact the California DMV Senior Driver Ombudsman Program at dmv.ca.gov/about/senior/senior_top.htm or in Los Angeles call 310-412-6103.