older drivers

Legislation pending in the Colorado General Assembly would allow older drivers to renew their license online, as younger drivers can.

People who work under the Gold Dome in Denver won’t like hearing this, but it’s the truth: Most of what they do doesn’t matter to anybody but them and often a narrow handful of vested interests.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t haggling and bickering like they’re plotting Sherman’s March to the Sea

On Monday, the state Senate didn't even bother to discuss what might be one of the most consequential bills of the session, especially if you're an older driver, you love one or you might pass one on the road. That covers a lot of Coloradoans.

House Bill 1139 would allow more people to renew a driver's license online, specifically those between 66 and 80 years old. The legislation passed both chambers unanimously, and the Senate put it on a "consent calendar," which is the venue of bills no one is likely to oppose. 

As it is now, once you're 65 or younger, you can renew online and swear you've had an eye exam in the past three years.

Once you're older than 65, however, you have to provide the Division of Motor Vehicles with a signed statement from an optometrist or ophthalmologist as proof of a passing exam within the previous six months.

With Gov. Jared Polis' signature, the legislation would change the age to 80, and all drivers younger than that have to attest they've had an eye exam in the past year. Those older than 80 would still have a doctor's note showing an exam the previous six months.

It’s the codification of the governor's executive order from a year go to allow more people to renew their license online to keep them and their germs out of the DMV.

Since then, 97,635 Coloradans from 66 to 80 renewed their driver's license online, according to the Department of Revenue, rather than spending any of their precious remaining hours in the soul-depleting quicksand of the DMV.

Sen. Don Coram, a Republican from Montrose, said there are older folks in his sprawling Western Slope district who have to drive 80 miles each way to reach a DMV office. “If they can do that,” he said of renewing online, “that’s huge.”

Keep in mind, better than 18% of Colorado’s drivers are between 66 and 80 years old, according to the department, so every person who can do their business virtually might be one less person in line in front of you.

Like I said, the reach of this bill is further than most bills you could bore yourself with.

Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Democrat from Dillon who authored the bill, said she checked with the Colorado State Patrol, and there’s no discernible increase in older drivers causing any more crashes than they normally would; in fact, there was a slight decrease, even accounting for fewer cars on the road because of the pandemic.

Young drivers also catch a break, too. An adult other than their parent will be able to sign off on a person younger than 18 getting their first license, as long as they accept liability and attest the new driver has logged 50 hours of practice.

At the first hearing on the bill on March 31, then-Rep. Jeni Arndt (who has since become mayor of Fort Collins) put a speed bump in front of the runaway enthusiasm.

Her mom had gotten a license in the mail during the pandemic. She told her lawmaker daughter, “I have no business having a license,” because of her age. She got it without any test at all.

Arndt was swayed to vote in favor the bill after asking, successfully, that it require a report on the demographics of traffic accidents every two years to alert lawmakers if they’ve created unintended traffic consequences. If older drivers want to keep the virtual privilege, they need to keep their wheels out of trouble.

Proof of an eye exam should a critical part of the bill, said Deanna Alexander, an optometrist from Fort Collins and a former president of the Colorado Optometric Association. Progressive eye disease comes on slowly, and people aren't the best judge of their own encroaching limits.

Other research suggests the average 60 year old sees only about half the amount of light they saw at 30. That makes night driving a dicey proposition for people with even marginal eye problems.

Skyler McKinley of AAA likened allowing people to attest to their eye exam to asking a bad driver how much they've had to drink.

The car club ran the numbers and found requiring more than clicking a box to renew a license saves lives. One study showed a 10% reduction in accidents involving older drivers. Another showed 17% fewer.

Wrong-way crashes are up 84% over the last 10 years, according to AAA, and two groups do most of the crashing: drunks and old folks.

“Driving with a vision impairment is as dangerous as driving drunk,” McKinley said.

The legislation doesn’t take away the option of going to a DMV office, if that's your choice. 

McCluskie noted the bill's cosponsor, Republican Sen. Bob Rankin of Carbondale, is a champion for older Coloradans, “preaching 80 is the new 50.”

“This is a good bill, much appreciated by the elder generation, of which I happen to be one,” Rankin said.

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