Stricter Law for Mature Drivers Goes into Effect in VA on New Years

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As we age, specific abilities needed to drive safely — such as vision, memory, physical strength, reaction time, and flexibility — may decline. Although some seniors are among the safest drivers on the road, those driving with declining faculties can make it dangerous for themselves and others. To address the issue, Virginia will join 33 states and the District of Columbia in enacting tougher standards for mature drivers, beginning on January 1, 2015.

In 2014, the Virginia General Assembly passed Darren’s Law (HB 771), named for 32-year-old Darren Morrell, an Oakton man who was killed in 2011 by an elderly driver who turned into the path of his motorcycle. Beginning on New Year’s Day, mature drivers in Virginia will be required to:

  • renew their licenses in person at 75 years old, rather than 80 (in other words, those over 75 will no longer be able to renew electronically or by mail.)
  • renew their licenses every five years (previously, drivers age 80 and older were required to renew in person every eight years).
  • pass the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles’ vision requirements or present a vision statement no older than 90 days from an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

The new law also gives judges more latitude to require older drivers found guilty in District Court of a traffic misdemeanor, traffic infractions, or other traffic violations to successfully complete traffic school, enroll in a “mature driver motor vehicle crash prevent course” or a “driving improvement course,” in lieu of a finding of guilty. The law allows all insurers writing motor vehicle insurance in Virginia to offer reductions in insurance premiums upon successfully completing an approved crash prevention course through actual classroom instruction.

Are mature drivers receptive to the tougher driving laws? Yes. Research by the AAA Foundation finds that senior drivers favor tougher driving laws and an overwhelming majority support greater scrutiny in the license-renewal process for themselves and their peers. Remarkably, support for these measures was greatest among drivers 75 and older, with seven out of 10 drivers favoring policies that require mature drivers to renew their license in person and also support requirements that seniors pass a medical screening to remain licensed.

“In many cases, seniors are some of the safest drivers out there. However, we know that aging naturally brings about health changes that can affect driving,” said DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb, the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative. “Darren’s death is a tragic reminder of what can happen when unsafe drivers are out on the road. We think Darren’s Law is a good compromise that better protects Virginians while allowing seniors who are still able to safely drive to do so.”

Do you have a loved one who is a mature driver? Below are some helpful links for resources that can help you and your loved one (from Helpguide.org):

Risk factors of aging that can affect driving

Red Flags for Medically Impaired Driving – Lists the chronic medical conditions, acute events, and medications that can impact driving. (National Highway Traffic Safety Organization)

Understanding Dementia and Driving – Discusses the ability of people in early stages of dementia to drive; includes warning signs and a family agreement form for the senior to sign. (TheHartford.com)

Injury Prevention for Older Road Users – Find guides for driving when you have (or have had) arthritis, cataracts, diabetes, glaucoma, macular degeneration, Parkinson’s disease, seizures, or stroke. (National Highway Traffic Safety Organization)

Older driver safety tips and workbooks

Senior Driving – Interactive driving evaluations and other tools for senior drivers, as well as information on licensing laws in different states of the U.S. (AAA)

Drivers 65+ – A driving self-awareness quiz. Helps the senior to pinpoint areas of driving weakness, then to remediate them. Answer the quiz and get a customized set of tips for driving safely. (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety)

You and Your Car: A Guide to Driving Wellness (PDF) – Includes myths about aging and driving, steps to being a safer driver, and driving skills assessment tools. (The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence)

Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully – Assess your driving skills and learn how age and physical symptoms affect your driving. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

Driving Decisions Workbook (PDF – need to rotate it or print it) – A practical workbook for evaluating one’s own driving capabilities, with extensive suggestions for working around driving weaknesses. (University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute)

Talking to seniors about driving

We Need to Talk…Family Conversations with Older Drivers (PDF) – A guide to talking to a senior about their driving and planning for the senior to stop driving. (The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence)

At the Crossroads: Family Conversations about Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia, and Driving (PDF) – (The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence)

Evaluating if it’s safe for seniors to drive

Older Driver Safety and Transition for the Mature Driver – (PDF) Written directly to older drivers, practical tips on utilizing resources to drive safely as long as possible (N4a.org)

Physician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers – In-depth guide from the American Medical Association on how to evaluate the driving ability of older patients and intervene when necessary. (National Highway Traffic Safety Organization)

Your Road Ahead: A Guide to Comprehensive Driving Evaluations – Learn about comprehensive driving evaluations, including what they can tell you about the need for rehabilitation, retraining, or to stop driving. (TheHartford.com)

Getting a professional evaluation of a senior’s driving

Older driver safety refresher courses

AARP Driver Safety – A classroom course designed for older drivers to help them hone their skills and avoid accidents and traffic violations. Website features information on the classes and on senior driving in general, including FAQs, a driving IQ test, and a close call test. (AARP)

AARP Driver Safety Online Course – A driver safety refresher course for the over-50 age group. The same material as the classroom course, but online. You can take the online version in the comfort of your own home. (AARP)

Adjusting to life without driving

Tips for Helping Elderly Parents Adjust to Life without Driving – Social and online alternatives for driving. (Carefect)

Transportation alternatives for older drivers

Transportation Options for Older Adults – (PDF) Reviews different types of options and tips on choosing the best type for you. (Eldercare Locator)

Transportation – by Eldercare Locator offers a searchable database for transportation alternatives. Calling the help line at 800-677-1116 can also connect you with area agencies on aging and other aging services. (Eldercare Locator)

State-by-State Guide to Transportation Assistance (PDF) – A thorough guide to finding links to senior transportation in your area. (AARP)

Supplemental Transportation Programs Listing by State – Transportation programs for seniors throughout the U.S. (SeniorDrivers.org, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, and the Beverly Foundation)

Transportation Solutions for Caregivers: A Starting Point (PDF) – Guide for family caregivers offers tips on dealing with common transportation challenges and a list of helpful resources. (Easter Seals Disability Services)

What happens when you are the person who should no longer be driving and the time has come for you to hand over your keys? Which loved one would you want to broach this important subject with you? Now, as part of your incapacity planning documents, you can indicate who you would trust to help you if you could no longer drive safely. Our firm can help you draw up an Advance Driving Directive to name the person that you want to initiate the discussion with you about continued driving (or not) when the time is right. Or you can use this one provided by the American Automobile Association. Please read our blog post about this subject for more details.

Planning in advance for cessation of driving or other alternatives can help keep you and others safe on the road, so be sure to incorporate an Advance Driving Directive as part of your planning. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call the Farr Law Firm at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax, 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg, 202-587-2797 in Washington, DC or 301-519-8041 in Maryland, to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.

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