The Illinois secretary of state’s office is recommending that a pandemic-driven state law that raised the minimum age for required behind-the-wheel driving tests for license renewals from 75 to 79 be made permanent, citing statistics showing accidents for that age group have remained low.
The law raising the age was passed in 2021 and was set to expire Oct. 1. A study compiled by the secretary of state’s office showed the rate of traffic crashes in Illinois in 2022 involving motorists age 75 and older was nearly identical to the year before, indicating there is no reason for the state to return to the minimum age of 75 for mandatory road testing.
“Statistics show that our senior drivers are among the safest drivers in the state,” Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias said in a letter to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly. “This report indicates that by raising the minimum age requiring drivers to complete a driving test, there is ‘no immediate threat to public safety’ on our roads.”
AARP Illinois, which advocates for seniors in the state, applauded the proposed change to “permanently reduce the number of older drivers subject to age-based licensed renewals.”
“Though AARP maintains age alone is not determinative of driving performance, this is a step in the right direction,” Ryan Gruenenfelder, senior director of outreach and advocacy for AARP Illinois said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with Secretary Giannoulias to identify policy solutions that assess all drivers’ ability to be safe on the road.”
Illinois legislators in December 2021 gave then-Secretary of State Jesse White the authority to institute emergency rules for its drivers services facilities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed down the facilities for a time and led to significant delays in the license renewal process.
Pandemic safety protocols required the facilities to operate at a reduced employee capacity and also kept away customers, especially seniors who were at a higher risk of serious illness or death if infected.
When the law making 79 the minimum age for behind-the-wheel testing was passed, it included a provision for the secretary of state’s office to conduct a study on its effect before Oct. 1. After completing that study, Giannoulias’ office said it filed an emergency rule on Tuesday with Illinois General Assembly’s bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules to maintain the status quo beyond Sunday’s deadline.
If the committee accepts the secretary of state’s recommendation, renewal requirements for older drivers would remain the same. But a rejection would mean a return to the previous rule and a process that would take several months, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office said.
“Moving the age at which driving tests must be taken for a driver’s license renewal from 75 to 79 has enhanced the efficiency of operations at DMVs and made renewals more convenient for our senior citizens within this age group,” Giannoulias’ office said in its study.
The secretary of state’s office used data from the Illinois Department of Transportation showing that motorists age 75 and older got into traffic crashes in 2022 at a rate of 24.39 per 1,000 licensed drivers, around the same as in 2021 when the rate was 24.59.
The rate of fatal crashes involving drivers 75 and older in 2022 was 0.17 per 1,000, or 110 fatal crashes per 634,148 licensed drivers, according to the study. That rate is virtually identical to 2021, though there were just over 61,000 fewer licensed drivers 75 and older that year compared with 2022, the study showed.
However, drivers 75 and over in Illinois have routinely accounted for among the lowest rates of total traffic crashes over any age group going back to at least 2018, the study showed.
In Illinois, motorists from age 75 through 80 must get their licenses renewed every four years, drivers 81 through 86 must get a renewal every two years, and drivers 87 and older must get a renewal every year. All of those age groups must take a vision test during the renewal process, with those 79 and older also required to take a driving test.
Even with the higher age for behind-the-wheel testing, Giannoulias’ office said, Illinois has the most stringent driving standards in the U.S. While some other states have age-related vision- and written-testing requirements, no other states require seniors to take behind-the-wheel road tests, Giannoulias’ office said.
Overall, 27 states and the District of Columbia don’t adjust the renewal cycle for motorists based on age, and of the other 23 states, Illinois is the only one that requires a driving test based on age, Giannoulias’ office said.
New Hampshire in 2011 and Indiana in 2005 were among the last states to do away with mandatory road tests for seniors, according to Giannoulias’ office.