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Michigan Elderly Driving Laws: What You Need To Know

April 12, 2024 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan Elderly Driving Laws: What You Need To Know

The Michigan elderly driving laws do not take away a person’s driver’s license once they reach a certain age, nor do they impose age-related requirements for obtaining or renewing a license. However, elderly drivers can have their driving privileges revoked or restricted depending on their ability to drive safely.

Michigan elderly driving statistics

In Michigan, there were 51,341 motor vehicle crashes involving drivers 65 years of age and older in in 2022. Additionally, there 280 fatal car crashes and 10,495 injury auto accidents involving drivers who were 65 and older.

(Source: Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, 2022, Date Query Tool)

Michigan elderly driving laws state no maximum age

The Michigan elderly driving laws do not set a maximum age limit beyond which a person is prohibited from being issued a driver’s license. (MCL 257.303(1)(a); 257.310e(1))

Michigan elderly driving laws state no special rules for license renewals

All Michigan drivers regardless of age must renew their driver’s license every four years. (MCL 257.314(1)) There are no special rules for older drivers under the Michigan elderly driving laws.

Some states – but not Michigan – impose the following requirements on elderly drivers:

  • Shorter renewal periods
  • Vision tests at renewal for all drivers over a certain age
  • No mail or online renewal for drivers over a certain age

Michigan elderly driving laws and denial of driver’s license

According to the Michigan elderly driving laws, the Michigan Secretary of State must deny an elderly driver’s application for a driver’s license if – in the SOS’s opinion – the older driver “is afflicted with or suffering from a physical or mental disability or disease that prevents the individual from exercising reasonable and ordinary control over a motor vehicle while operating the motor vehicle on the highways.” (MCL 257.303(1)(d))

Michigan elderly driving laws on when elderly drivers are incompetent or unsafe to drive

According to the Michigan elderly driving laws, when the Secretary of State “has reason to believe” that an elderly driver is “incompetent to drive a motor vehicle or is afflicted with a mental or physical infirmity or disability rendering it unsafe for” the elderly driver to “drive a motor vehicle,” an investigation or reexamination of the elderly driver’s mental and physical qualifications to drive safely can be conducted. (MCL 257.320(1)(a))

The investigation or reexamination can also be based on the facts that (1) the elderly driver has been involved in one or more fatal crashes and (2) the elderly driver was the at-fault driver in 3 personal injury or property damage crashes within a 24-month period. (MCL 257.320(1)(b) and (c))

After the investigation or reexamination, the Secretary of State may restrict, suspend, revoke or impose other conditions on the elderly driver’s license. (MCL 257.320(2))

Common restrictions for elderly drivers

  • No freeway driving
  • An additional right side mirror on a vehicle
  • No nighttime driving
  • Time of day restrictions—for example, no driving during rush hour traffic
  • Supports to ensure a proper driving position
  • Geographic area restrictions, and
  • Wearing bioptic telescopic lens when driving.

What can family and friends do about an unsafe elderly driver?

Concerned family and friends can request that an elderly driver be investigated or examined to determine whether he or she is competent and safe to continue driving a vehicle by submitted a “Request for Driver Evaluation” form to the Secretary of State.

In the form, family and friends must describe “a medical episode, incident, pattern of behavior or other evidence that [they] believe justifies an evaluation of [the elderly driver] as it relates to their ability to drive safely.” In other words, the SOS needs to have “specific information . . . indicating that an unsafe driving condition may exist.”

According to the Michigan elderly driving laws doctors and optometrists may report unsafe elderly drivers

As stated by the Michigan elderly driving laws, a doctor or optometrist may make a report to the Secretary of State or warn third parties that an elderly driver may no longer be mentally or physically qualified to safely drive a car or truck due to the risk an “episode” occurring. (MCL 333.5139(1) and (4))

On the basis of the Michigan elderly driving laws, an “episode” can be any of the following:

  • “An experience derived from a condition that causes or contributes to loss of consciousness, blackout, seizure, a fainting spell, syncope, or any other impairment of the level of consciousness.” (MCL 333.5139(4)(a)(i); Rule R 257.851(1)(e)(i))
  • “An experience derived from a condition that causes an impairment of an individual’s driving judgment.” (MCL 333.5139(4)(a)(ii); Adm. Rule R 257.851(1)(e)(ii))
  • “An experience derived from an impairment of an individual’s vision.” (MCL 333.5139(4)(a)(iii))
  • An experience derived from a condition which causes or contributes to an impairment of a driver’s reaction time or ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. (Adm. Rule R 257.851(1)(e)(ii))
  • An experience derived from a condition which causes or contributes “to a violent or aggressive action relating to the operation of a motor vehicle.” (Adm. Rule R 257.851(1)(e)(iii))

In the event a doctor or optometrist makes a report to the Secretary of State, he or she must recommend a period of driver-license suspension (at least 6 months or longer). (MCL 333.5139(2)(a))

The Secretary of State shall use a doctor’s or optometrist’s report when examining an elderly driver’s physical and mental qualifications to safely drive a car or truck. (MCL 333.5139(2); 257.309(3))

Notably, neither a doctor nor an optometrist is required to make a report or warn third parties if they believe an elderly driver can no longer drive safely. In other words, they have “no affirmative obligation” to make a report of warn others. (MCL 333.5139(1))

Plus, if a doctor or optometrist chooses to neither report nor warn, they are “immune from any criminal or civil liability to the patient or third party that may have been injured by the patient’s actions.” (MCL 333.5139(1))

Michigan elderly driving laws do not protect the public, they protect doctors

When the Legislature passed the law that allows doctors and optometrists to report and warn about unsafe elderly drivers, I was interviewed on the Mitch Albom show on WJR 760am. You can listen to the interview here.

The Michigan elderly driving laws is a topic I’ve spoken and written about before, both at legal seminars and with the media. It’s a topic I care very much about.

As a lawyer, I’ve been involved in many very serious car accidents caused by older drivers.  Most of these car accidents are caused by loss of vision, dementia and confusion behind the wheel, or loss of physical coordination (pushing down on the accelerator, instead of the brake pedal). The sad thing is so many of these car accidents caused by elderly drivers are completely preventable.

What I talked about during my interview on the Mitch Albom show was how the law regarding doctors and optometrists – especially MCL 333.5139 – was not strong enough to help protect elderly drivers and the rest of the driving public.

In my opinion, the Michigan elderly driving law’s two major flaws were:

  • It doesn’t require doctors and optometrists to report their elderly patients whom they suspect are no longer able to drive safely (MCL 333.5139(1))
  • The Michigan elderly driving law says that a doctor or optometrist “has no affirmative obligation” but “may voluntarily” make a report to the Secretary of State or warn third parties that an elderly patient may no longer be able to drive safely (MCL 333.5139(1))
  • The Michigan elderly driving law also protects doctors and optometrists who decline to make a report or warn others about an unsafe elderly driver by declaring that such a doctor or optometrist “is immune from any criminal or civil liability” for any injuries that the elderly driver may cause (MCL 333.5139(1))

The Michigan elderly driving law law, which is modeled on similar legislation that has been enacted in almost two dozen states, cares more about protecting doctors than it does about protecting the safety of the public. If the intent is to protect the public from older drivers who have become clearly unsafe, or from other drivers who have seizure disorders and epilepsy and who are still driving, then it fails.

This is because the new Michigan elderly driving law provides complete immunity from civil and criminal lawsuits for all doctors, whether that doctor reports an unsafe older driver or chooses not to.

That is one of my greatest criticisms of the Michigan elderly driving laws. A doctor who knows an older person is unsafe, who knows that there is a high risk of causing harm to others on the roads, and who chooses to do nothing and chooses not to report that patient, has total immunity. Even when that unsafe driver then goes out and kills himself and others on the road.

The Michigan elderly driving law protects doctors who take the default position, which is to say, the doctors who choose to do nothing (even when these doctors know there is a very high probability that this unsafe person will cause serious harm to himself or others driving a car).

My other strong criticism of the Michigal elderly driving law is that it does not require doctors and optometrists to report elderly drivers whom they know or suspect – based on their medical training and experience – are unsafe. Reporting an older driver who is likely to go out and cause a crash that could injure or kill innocent people should be mandatory.

The challenges of elderly driving cases and lawsuits

These are always difficult cases. To the older drivers who’s freedom to drive is at issue, it is extremely personal.  It is about their independence. And it causes great hardship and angst for families and children of these older drivers who have become unsafe behind the wheel.

But I strongly believe there is a balance to be struck between protecting the safety of the public, and protecting the rights of an elderly driver.

The Michigan State Police have found that fatality rates are 17 times greater for drivers over the age of 65 than for drivers between the ages of 25-64.  Statistically, older drivers are far more dangerous and more at risk of causing a motor vehicle accident than any other group, except for the youngest drivers.

Whereas younger drivers have great reflexes, elderly drivers can have very poor judgment.  Older drivers have the exact opposite problem. They have better judgment and will make safer driving decisions behind the wheel of a car (for example, not to text or speed or drink and drive), but older drivers have slower reflexes and poorer vision.

A car that is driving 45 mph is traveling at 70 feet per second. Even a few seconds of delay – because an older driver’s perception and reaction time has slowed – can have fatal consequences. Add driver confusion behind the wheel, or problems with gross motor skills, and the problems of older drivers becomes more apparent.

I put it to people like this: if you have children in your neighborhood, a car driving 25 mph is basically moving at 40 feet per second.  Forty feet a second.  Do you really want someone who is going to have an additional few seconds delay between the time they see your child in the street and being able to react by steering and braking, assuming they have the visual acuity to even see the child right away? Visit our elderly driving resources page for more.

What should we be doing to protect the driving elderly and the public?

As the problems of older drivers causing deadly – and very preventable – car accidents becomes even greater, something else  will need to be done by legislatures across America.

The answer, in my opinion, is simple. I would like to see mandatory safety exams for older drivers, perhaps starting at age 72, and continuing every few years.  Such an exam would be very fast and very inexpensive. A very quick examination that includes a vision test, a mini mental status exam to test for dementia and a basic physical test to test for physical ability, balance and coordination would prevent most of these car accidents before they ever take place.

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

Today, our priorities are completely out of whack. We are more focused on what happens AFTER a car accident than we are on what we can do BEFORE a car accident so it never happens.

Our priorities need to be on the pound of cure. Not the ounce of prevention. And because of the state’s powerful medical lobby, our legislators are more concerned with protecting the doctors who do nothing than ensuring the safety of the rest of us.

Injured by an elderly driver in a car accident? Call the car accident attorneys at Michigan Auto Law

If were injured in a car accident with an elderly driver and have questions about the Michigan eldelry driving laws and have questions about a claim, call now at (888) 857-9250 for a free consultation with one of our experienced car accident lawyers. There is no cost or obligation. You can also visit our contact page or use the chat feature on our website.

Michigan Auto Law is Michigan’s largest and most successful law firm that specializes exclusively in helping people who have been injured in auto accidents.

Our secret? Our attorneys deliberately handle fewer cases than other personal injury law firms.  This allows us to focus more time and attention on our cases.

Unlike other law firms, our attorneys are never too busy to promptly return phone calls and answer questions. 

We have more than 2,000 5-Star reviews that reflect this care and attention to detail.

More importantly, this client-focused approach leads to better and faster settlements for our clients. Michigan Auto Law has recovered more million-dollar settlements and trial verdicts for motor vehicle accidents than any other lawyer or law firm in Michigan. We’ve also recovered the highest ever reported truck accident and car accident settlement in the state.

Call now so we can start making a real difference for you.

Michigan Elderly Driving Laws: What You Need To Know

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