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Driver’s License Importance for Older Adults

Families often have charged conversations and difficult decisions about an aging parent’s driver’s license.  Driver’s licenses are intimately tied to issues of independence and safety that are of concern to aging individuals and their families.  As family members’ concerns rise, they may be tempted to physically take the driver’s license away from the aging individual, or just let it expire.  It is important to consider that the role served by a driver’s license goes beyond its use for driving privileges.  A driver’s license is also an important identification document.  You may not be able to update legal documents if you allow it to expire without replacing it with another photo ID.    

There are a variety of age-related factors that impact driving ability.  Deteriorating vision, hearing, and reflexes with age raise concerns about the ability to drive safely.  Certain medical conditions can render driving unsafe.  Those include medical conditions that impair vision, hearing, attention, cognition, or reflexes, and conditions that can result in a loss of consciousness.  Pennsylvania law requires medical providers to report to PennDOT any individuals under their care whose medical conditions may make them unsafe drivers.  Following reporting, the Department of Transportation may recall or suspend driving privileges and require the individual to undergo examinations to determine if they are competent to drive.  Certain limitations can result in restrictions on a person’s driver’s license, such as restrictions against driving at night time, or requiring that the vehicle be equipped with special equipment.  More severe limitations could require the driver’s license to be surrendered entirely. 

A person over the age of 55 who is concerned about how their age or health may impact their driving can voluntarily take one of the ten Mature Driver Improvement Courses that have been recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.  These are designed to address the specific safety needs of a mature driver.  No written or practical test is required, and those who complete a course may be eligible to receive a 5% discount on their vehicle insurance.  Those courses are available through:

  • AAA
  • AARP
  • ADEPT Driver
  • A+ DriveSafe Online
  • Defensive Driving by Improv
  • National Safety Council
  • Road Review
  • Safe 2 Drive
  • Senior Driving Discount of America
  • Seniors for Safe Driving

PennDOT also offers a list of safety tips for mature drivers These include having regular vision and medical exams, avoiding driving at night and in hazardous weather conditions, avoiding medications that cause drowsiness before driving, planning trips during lower traffic times, and maintaining a safe speed and following distances while on the road.  If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe while driving, it may be time to stop driving or limit your driving.

If it comes to the point of surrendering a driver’s license, there are appropriate steps one should take to make sure the loss of driving privileges does not also result in the loss of identification.  A driver’s license is most people’s go-to photo ID, and may be their only photo ID.  If it is allowed to expire, it can no longer be used for its purpose as identification.  This regularly poses problems for older clients who come to us to update their estate planning documents.  A notary requires a current photo ID to notarize legal documents, and an expired driver’s license will not do.  If you want to be able to update your Will, Power of Attorney, or Health Care Power of Attorney, you will need to have a current photo ID to do it.  It could also be needed for purposes of applying for benefits, boarding an airplane, entering a government building (including a Federal Courthouse), and picking up prescription medications.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation provides a photo ID card that clearly indicates it is not a driver’s license for those who are no longer able to drive safely, but still need to have access to a photo ID.  Upon first surrendering a driver’s license, the photo ID is available without any fee.  Applicants who wish to do so should request and complete Form DL-54B, “Photo Identification Card Application for Change/Correction/Replacement/Renew.”  Thereafter, the ID must be renewed every 4 years, and PennDOT will charge a renewal fee.  You may complete this process by mail if you are unable to go to the Driver License Center in person.  However, if you do not have a current photo image on file with PennDOT, you will be required to go to a Driver License Center in person to have your photo taken.

The REAL ID Act establishes minimum ID requirements beyond those previously used for Pennsylvania’s standard driver’s licenses and identification cards.  Due to COVID-19, its enforcement has been delayed to May 3, 2023.  When the REAL ID Act is enforced, you will need a REAL ID compliant identification card or driver’s license in order to board a domestic flight or enter a federal facility or military base that requires identification.  If you have not already updated your driver’s license or identification card to comply with the REAL ID Act, you should do so.  However, at this time a REAL ID is not required for purposes of notarizing legal documents. 

The decision when it is time to stop driving remains a controversial decision for many families, and is sometimes made for them due to medical conditions.  Whether by a voluntary decision or requirement of law, it is important to still maintain a current photo ID even after you surrender your driving privileges. 

Kelly Appleyard, Attorney