Is Illinois' mandatory road test for seniors fair? The 49 other states don't do it
John Billis hasn't gotten a parking citation, let alone a traffic ticket, in about 50 years, he says.
So why, Billis wonders, must he take a driving test to renew his license upon turning 79?
“It's discriminatory,” the 75-year-old said. “It's totally wrong.”
Illinois is the only state in the U.S. with a mandatory road test for seniors.
The law requires drivers aged 79 and 80 to take a road exam if their four-year license renewal is up. For drivers aged 81 to 86, it's every two years, and for those 87 and older, it's yearly.
But according to a recent study, “statistics show that our senior drivers are among the safest drivers in the state,” Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias said.
Billis, a Vietnam War veteran from Prairie View, said it would be different if he had gotten a ticket.
With a clean record, however, “I shouldn't have to take a test because of my age. I'm not worried about taking a test. I can drive just about everything.”
Billis is among a number of senior drivers who told the Daily Herald they oppose the mandatory tests.
AARP Illinois agrees. “We believe age itself does not cause car crashes,” AARP Associate State Director Jeff Scott said.
“To say, 'just because you're older, you're inclined to do something wrong on the road,' is statistically incorrect — the secretary of state said it.”
Typically, elderly drivers drive during daytime, avoid risky weather and take short trips for necessities like groceries or medical appointments, Scott noted.
The secretary of state's study found that in 2022, Illinois motorists age 75 or older had a crash rate of 24.39 per 1,000 drivers, the second lowest in the state. That means 15,468 out of 634,148 licensed drivers 75 and older were in crashes.
Next year, Democratic state Rep. Joyce Mason of Gurnee intends to spearhead legislation eliminating road tests for seniors.
The intent is “to put Illinois on parity with other states that don't require this additional testing,” she said.
Mason wants to make sure laws are “based on true need and not on age bias and to follow the research.” Data from AARP, the secretary of state, and other states show that “elderly drivers are actually safer drivers,” Mason said.
The issue has a long history. In 1958, a new law went into effect requiring people aged 69 and older to pass a road exam when renewing their license.
In 1990, legislation backed by then Secretary of State Jim Edgar, who went on to serve as governor, raised the road exam age to 75 but added more frequent testing for those 81 and older. The change was a safety measure to identify at-risk drivers whose cognitive abilities could be declining, state officials said.
The age 75 limit was bumped up to 79 in 2022 as a COVID-19 expediency that remains in place today.
Here are other significant numbers from the October report:
• The safest motorists were people age 70 to 74 with a crash rate of 24.38. That's 12,529 drivers in crashes out of 513,963 license-holders.
• The highest crash rate? That would be 18-year-olds with 80.91 — or 10,604 teen drivers in collisions out of 131,060 license-holders.
• Most drivers in crashes? It's 20- to 24-year-olds, or 55,075 motorists out of 712,549 licensees — a rate of 77.29.
Asked for Giannoulias' opinion about repealing senior tests, a spokeswoman said “that would be up for the Illinois General Assembly to decide and require legislation.”
Two outside organizations gave differing perspectives on senior tests.
AAA found “insufficient evidence of the safety effects of knowledge and road tests at license renewal to justify the enactment of policies requiring knowledge and/or road tests” officials said.
However, a Highway Loss Data Institute/Insurance Institute for Highway Safety report showed lower rates of insurance claims among older drivers in Illinois compared to neighboring states without testing, a spokesman said.
You should know
Other states have used road tests but of the last two, excepting Illinois, Indiana eliminated the requirement in 2005 and New Hampshire followed suit in 2011.
Illinois has a four-year renewal for the general population. In comparison, nine states offer eight-year renewals regardless of age: Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
California, the most populated state, has a five-year renewal rule for everyone.
And Arizona and Montana drivers get 12-year renewal periods until residents hit ages 65 and 75, respectively.
Got an opinion on senior driving policies? Drop an email to email@example.com.
One more thing
Metra's making it easy for commuters to give a merry Christmas to kids in need. From 6 to 9 a.m. Tuesday, the agency will collect new, unwrapped toys or donations at all downtown stations with its partner, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Foundation.