March 31, 2023

Driving on public roads has always been described as a privilege. Not until losing one’s license, however, do we fully appreciate the necessity of driving, especially in Southern California. This is an unfortunate dilemma for hundreds of thousands of drivers, who have decreased abilities due to age.

We’ve all been inconvenienced by older drivers, who fail to keep up with the flow of traffic or yield the right of way. Unfortunately, older drivers have also caused serious and fatal accidents because of their inability to control their vehicles.

Instead of imposing an age limit for driving, the California Department of Motor Vehicles takes drivers on a case-by-case basis. In fact, any citizen with a disability, regardless of age can demonstrate their abilities and qualify for a driver’s license. DMV offers a Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation for anyone under one of the following special circumstances:

  • Drivers not meeting DMV’s minimum vision requirements
  • Those referred from a Driver Safety Office because of a physical or mental condition, or lack of driving skill. Sometimes a law enforcement officer, a physician, or a concerned relative or friend may refer someone to DMV for a check of their driving ability.

The purpose of the SDPE is to determine whether the driver:

  • has the ability to operate a motor vehicle safely
  • has formed or retained the proper safe-driving habits
  • can translate the knowledge of traffic laws into actual practice
  • can compensate for any physical condition which might affect safe driving ability, such as poor vision, loss of a limb, or the early stages of dementia

Imperfect performance on the evaluation may not necessarily lead to license revocation. The examiner and driver will discuss skill deficiencies or behaviors needing improvement upon completion of the drive.

In certain situations, if the SDPE is too difficult for a driver’s abilities, they may have the option of taking an Area Driving Performance Evaluation. Both the driver and DMV examiner will pre-determine the driving test area for the ADPE. Upon successful completion of this exam, the driver’s license will be restricted to that area. The chosen area should obviously include critical destinations, such as grocery stores and doctors’ offices.

Drivers wishing to restore suspended or revoked licenses should contact their local Driver Safety Office to acquire a special instruction permit. DMV has a list of approved Mature Driver Improvement Programs available to help drivers sharpen their skills.

First and foremost on the list is the AARP Driver Safety Program. Formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, AARP is celebrating its 50th anniversary of assisting mature Americans. Its program is the nation’s first and largest, having helped millions drive more safely since its inception in 1979. The course is designed to teach:

  • Current rules of the road
  • Safer vehicle operation in today’s increasingly challenging driving environment
  • Adjustments to common age-related changes in vision, hearing, and reaction time

Among specific topics addressed:

  • Maintaining proper following distances
  • Safe lane changes and turns at intersections
  • Effects of medications on driving
  • Overcoming the effects of blind spots
  • Limiting driver distractions
  • Proper usage of safety equipment
  • Maintaining physical flexibility
  • Continual monitoring of driving skills

The course is open to all drivers but geared to those ages 50 and older. AARP membership is not required, and there is no final test to pass.

The classroom course fee is only $10 and can be taken in two 4-hour sessions or single-day sessions usually held on weekends. The course is also available online, with a fee of $19.95; AARP members receive a $4 discount.

For more information, refer to the AARP Driver Safety Program webpage.

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