An Illinois requirement that drivers 75 and older renew their licenses frequently and pass a road test at each renewal has reduced insurance claim rates among the older driver population, a HLDI study shows. However, a now-repealed road-test requirement in New Hampshire failed to have the same effect.
Per mile traveled, older drivers crash more often than middle-age adults, though not as often as young drivers. Concerns about age-related mental, visual and physical impairments have prompted many states to establish shorter license renewal cycles for older drivers and to require eye exams at renewal (see Status Report special issue: older drivers, March 19, 2007).
Illinois is the only state that currently has a road-test requirement for older drivers. The requirement applies to all drivers age 75 and older. All Illinois drivers 80 and younger must renew their licenses every four years. Drivers 81-86 must renew every two years, while those 87 and older are required to renew annually.
The state's requirements have resulted in fewer older people driving than otherwise would be expected, HLDI's analysis shows. Those older drivers who do remain on the roads are somewhat less risky than older drivers in nearby states.
"The unique mix of regulations in Illinois appears to reduce crash risk, and it seems to do that by getting the riskiest folks off the road," says HLDI Senior Vice President Matt Moore.
New Hampshire didn't see the same benefit from its road-test requirement, which was in effect for drivers age 75 and older until 2011. Renewal is required every five years for all drivers, regardless of age.
To understand the Illinois policy's effect on the number of older people who continue to drive, HLDI analysts looked at the number of people covered under bodily injury liability insurance. Unlike other types of coverage, bodily injury coverage is required by law.
Four states bordering Illinois — Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin — were used as controls. Like Illinois, all of them require older drivers to renew in person and provide proof of adequate vision. Renewal cycles vary by state and by age group, but those in Illinois are on the stringent side. The one-year renewal cycle for drivers 87 and older is unique to Illinois.
To find out if the renewal requirements in Illinois reduced the number of older drivers, HLDI calculated the ratio of insured vehicles with older rated drivers to insured vehicles with rated drivers ages 55-74. A rated driver is the driver assigned to a vehicle for insurance purposes, though not necessarily the person behind the wheel at any given time.
For all older drivers, the ratio was smaller in Illinois than in surrounding states. The effect was stronger for drivers 81-86 than drivers 75-80 and stronger still for drivers 87 and older, mirroring the progressively shorter renewal cycles in the older age groups. The effects were stronger in urban areas compared with nonurban ones.
The goal of Illinois' road-test requirement isn't to discourage seniors in general from driving, but rather to get risky drivers off the road. The crucial question HLDI sought to answer was whether there are fewer crashes as a result of the policy.
By comparing claim rates in Illinois with those of the neighboring states, HLDI was able to determine that claims for vehicle damage and claims under bodily injury liability, which covers injuries to people in other vehicles, as well as pedestrians and bicyclists, were lower than would have been expected for drivers 75 and older. Not all the reductions were statistically significant. Medical payment coverage, which pays for injuries to insured drivers and the passengers in their vehicles, showed mixed results.
To study the New Hampshire policy, HLDI analysts compared claim rates there with claim rates in Vermont and Maine. They also compared New Hampshire claim rates during the time the requirement was in effect with claim rates after the repeal.
The analysis showed that New Hampshire had higher-than-expected claim rates for vehicle damage and under bodily injury liability coverage and a slightly lower claim rate under medical payment coverage. None of the results were statistically significant.
Neither the Illinois nor the New Hampshire study could separate the effects of the road test from the effect of the specific renewal cycles, and that may account for some of the differences between the two states.
Another key difference is that Illinois — especially the urban areas that saw the biggest benefits from the older driver policies — has more public transportation than predominantly rural New Hampshire.
"Crash risk in Illinois, with its special licensing requirements, is lower than in the control states, but New Hampshire is sort of a cautionary tale," Moore says. "Unless there are transportation alternatives for older folks, we may not see the same benefits Illinois has seen."
License renewal requirements by driver age
||Renew every 4 years
||All drivers renew every 5 years, regardless of age
||Renew every 2 years
||Until 2011, road test was required for drivers 75 and older
|Road test required for drivers 75 and older
Illinois saw reductions in claim rates among older drivers under its road-test requirement for license renewal, but predominantly rural New Hampshire didn't see the same benefits.
Illinois older drivers
Estimated differences in bodily injury liability exposure ratio between Illinois and control states
Illinois older drivers
Estimated effects of road test requirement on claim rates
New Hampshire older drivers
Estimated effects of road test requirement on claim rates of drivers 75 and older