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Driver’s licenses in most States are valid for 4 to 8 years, with a few States having as long as a 12-year renewal cycle (IIHS, 2021a). To renew an expiring license, drivers in many States must appear in person, pay the license fee, and have new pictures taken for their licenses. Many States require a vision test for license renewal. Some States allow all drivers to renew by mail or electronically.

More than half the States change license renewal requirements for drivers older than a specified age, typically 65 or 70. These changes may include a shorter interval between renewals, in- person renewal (no renewal by mail or electronically), or a vision test at every renewal. A few States require written or road tests for some older renewal applicants. IIHS (2021a) summarizes these requirements.

AAMVA recommends that all drivers renew licenses in-person and pass a vision test at least every 4 years (Staplin & Lococo, 2003; TRB, 2005). Very few States meet these recommendations for all drivers. In-person renewals could be even more useful, for drivers of all ages, if they included functional ability tests as recommended in the NHTSA-AAMVA Model Driver Screening and Evaluation Program: Volume 3: Guidelines for Motor Vehicle Administrators (Staplin & Lococo, 2003) (see Countermeasure “License Screening and Testing”).


Many States have different license renewal requirements for older drivers. These include 20 States with a shorter interval between renewals, 19 States that require more frequent vision tests or screenings at renewal, and 1 State (Illinois) that requires road tests for applicants 75 and older. Seventeen States and the District of Columbia prohibit online or renewals by mail (IIHS, 2021a).


License examiners report that in-person renewals and vision tests are effective at identifying people whose driving skills may be impaired (Potts et al., 2004). However, no known data are available on the number of potentially impaired drivers identified through these practices, and the effectiveness of more frequent renewals and vision tests on crashes is inconclusive (Koppel et al., 2020). Furthermore, studies regarding the effectiveness of vision screening for license renewal indicate that the value of the vision tests commonly used for licensing decisions as predictors of increased crash risk is inconclusive and that the aspects of vision currently assessed for licensing do not adequately explain unsafe driving (Bohensky et al., 2008).

Nonetheless, several studies have found that in-person renewals reduce fatal crashes, particularly for drivers 85 and older. Morrisey and Grabowski (2005) found that in-person license renewal was associated with reduced statewide traffic fatalities among the oldest drivers (85+). Similarly, in a study that analyzed the effects of laws and licensing policies in 46 U.S. States on the fatal crash involvement rates of older drivers from 1985 to 2011, Tefft (2014) found that requiring an in-person renewal was associated with a 25% reduction in fatal crash involvement for those 85 and older. There is a question, however, as to whether the large effects of in-person renewal requirements were due to the examiners being able to remove unsafe older drivers from the driving population or to older drivers possibly ceasing to drive prematurely. Other driver license renewal policies investigated (vision test, knowledge test, on-road driving test, and mandatory reporting laws for physicians) were not found to reduce fatal crash involvement rates of older drivers. Conversely, an earlier study found that fatalities among drivers 80 and older in Florida decreased by 17% after the State passed a law requiring these drivers to pass vision tests before renewing their driver licenses (McGwin et al., 2008). Agimi et al. (2018) similarly found that vision tests during in-person renewals were associated with significantly lower crash hospitalization rates among drivers 60 to 74. A systematic review of literature on in-person license renewal, which included several of the aforementioned studies, found inconclusive evidence on the safety benefits of these policies (Koppel et al., 2020).


More-frequent license renewals or additional testing at renewal impose direct costs on driver licensing agencies. For example, a State that reduces the renewal time from 6 years to 3 years for drivers 65 and older would approximately double the licensing agency workload associated with these drivers. If 15% of licensed drivers in the State are 65 or older, then the agency’s overall workload would increase by about 15% to process the renewals. If more frequent renewals and vision tests identify more drivers who require additional screening and assessment, then additional costs are imposed. See Countermeasure “License Screening and Testing” for additional discussion.

Time to implement:

A vision test requirement for renewal or a change in the renewal interval can be implemented within months. The new requirements will not apply to all drivers for several years until all currently valid licenses have expired, and drivers appear at the driver licensing agency for licensing renewal.

Other considerations:

  • Road tests and medical reports: Several Australian States require a medical report, a road test, or both for drivers over a specified age to renew their licenses. Langford et al. (2004) compared Australian States with and without these requirements. They found that Australian States with these requirements had higher older-driver crash rates than States without them. They conclude that there are “no demonstrable road safety benefits” to requiring medical reports or road tests for older drivers.