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Seniors and Driving in Rhode Island

For many seniors, being able to drive a car is not merely a convenient mode of transportation, it is also a hallmark of independence. That’s why it’s especially important for seniors to ensure their physical heath meets medical thresholds, their vehicles conform to safety standards, and they maintain their skills even as they continue to age.  For seniors who enjoy driving regularly, this will ensure that it remains a transportation option for a long time to come.

License Renewal Process for Seniors

The Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) provides for a specific process for drivers who are 68 years old or older at the time his or her license expires.   Senior drivers in this category are required to renew their license in person, at a local office of the DMV.  The license can only be renewed for two years, and is preceded by the issuing of a temporary license that is valid for 60 days.   The license gets mailed out the driver.

The senior driver’s re-examination is performed by a DMV-authorized officer, and can involve one or more components, namely:

  • a review of the senior’s driving record;
  • an interview;
  • vision test;
  • written test; and
  • driving test.

DMV Testing for Vision and Medical Standards

Most Rhode Island drivers who are over 68 will be required to undergo a basic vision test, and must meet certain vision thresholds whether for corrected or uncorrected vision.

Some senior drivers may also have to undergo periodic medical check-ups, or obtain the certification of a medical supervisor as a condition of their license renewal, to ensure their physical health is up-to-par.  A renewed license may also be subject to certain restrictions (such as the need for vision correction while driving, driving only during daylight hours, or in a specified geographic region, among others).

Drivers who have a disability can ask to take the license testing by means of an oral exam; those who are hearing-impaired can ask for the services of an interpreter.

Other Thresholds to Meet

Depending on the circumstances, the testing procedures for seniors may also involve a written knowledge test. The extent of the needed re-examination will be determined based on the senior’s driving record or information that is contained in his or her license renewal application. Or, it may be prompted by the recommendation of a family member, physical or emergency medical technician, or peace officer.

Practice tests are available on-line.

Driving-Related Tips for Seniors

Even for seniors who are not due to be re-examined or have their license renewed, these driving-related tips may help ensure and prolong the best, safest driving experience:

  • Keep Driving Skills Updated. It’s never a bad idea for seniors – or anyone who needs a little refresher – to take a driver’s education program, or attend driving school.
  • Vehicle Maintenance. All drivers, regardless of age, should adhere to good-driving-safety measures.  This includes attending to routine car maintenance items, including the task of keeping tires, headlights, and wiper blades in good repair.
  • ​Medications and Staying Healthy. Senior drivers must remain alert to how medications – particularly any newly-prescribed drugs – may impact their ability to drive.   This includes being aware of any unintended side-effects, and making inquiries about contra-indicated medicines.  This should be discussed with a doctor or pharmacist.
  • Monitor Ability Level. The normal aging process causes both physical and mental changes that might affect a senior’s ability to drive; even subtle changes can create a big impact. These typically involve diminished vision acuity and focus, a decline in hearing, poor reflexes and motor skills, and a decline in memory and mental acuity.  Although it is important for seniors to be honest with themselves about any reduced functioning, it may fall to family members to objectively assess the impact of such changes.
  • Know When to Quit. From the standpoint of personal independence it may be a difficult decision to make, but at some point a senior driver may have to acknowledge that the time has come to retire from driving altogether. The good news is that seniors who have reached this stage can capitalize on many alternative methods of transportation such as, public transit, taxis, Uber and other rideshare programs, or rides from friends and family.

Heffner & Associates, Elder Care Law & Estate Planning

Jefferson Office Park
615 Jefferson Boulevard
Warwick, Rhode Island