CA Department of Motor Vehicles Licensing Operations Division Research and Development

Older Drivers: License Restriction vs. Revocation

Sandra Winter Hersch

Editor's Note: Sandra Winter (now Hersch) administered the nondriving tests, to drivers in the dementia/frailty study. The research on which this article is based was part of that done for her Master's degree at CSUS; she presented it at the 1997 Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington DC.

How does license restriction, compared to revocation, affect impaired older drivers and their family or friends? I administered surveys to 65 people aged 60 or older who had recently had a California Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) reexamination at one of several offices in the San Jose area, and to 59 people who were friends or relatives of one of these drivers and had been asked by them to participate. Emphasis in the surveys was on places the reexaminees could or could not go to, perceived safety of the reexaminees and others, emotional reactions of reexaminees and their "significant others" to the reexaminee's driving restriction or cessation, changes in health and driving habits, alternative methods of transportation used, and attitudes toward the DMV.

Of the 65 reexaminees, 25 kept their licenses; 30 lost their licenses, and only 10 were given restrictions. The group of friends and relatives consisted of 21 people whose reexaminees kept their licenses with no new restrictions, 30 whose reexaminees lost their licenses, and 8 whose reexaminees received new restrictions on their licenses. The following will describe findings for this small sample.

Each person in the restricted group had from one to four new restrictions placed on their license. These were: no nighttime driving (7 people), an area restriction (4 people), corrective lenses (4 people), no freeway driving (4 people), and (other than daytime-only) a time-of-day restriction (2 people).

Given a choice of 6 different "necessary" destinations on the questionnaire (including "other"), only 1 person in the restricted group (10%) reported difficulty in reaching one of them-the doctor's office or hospital. In contrast, 83% of the revoked group reported difficulty in reaching the grocery store; 70% reported difficulty in reaching the doctor's office or hospital. Thirty-seven percent reported difficulty in reaching the drug store, 23% the post office.

As you might expect, many more in the revoked group than in the restricted group were angry about DMV's decision. In the revoked group, 50% were "very angry" and another 17% were "somewhat angry." Only one person in the restricted group reported being "somewhat angry"; none was very angry. Sixty percent of restricted, and 17% of revoked, drivers reported feeling not at all angry. In fact, the restricted group typically reported being somewhat happy and relieved.

When asked to judge their loved ones' reactions, relatives and friends seemed to have a fairly good idea of how the reexaminees felt, judging from the fact that their responses matched the above percentages fairly closely. When asked how they themselves felt, relatives and friends of drivers who had been revoked were much more likely to report feeling very angry (38%), very unhappy (41%), and not at all relieved by the decision (66%). The corresponding percentages for relatives or friends of restricted drivers were 12%, 12%, and 38%.

The "report card" for DMV is interesting. Reexaminees were asked how their attitude toward the department had changed since its decision, whether DMV staff were courteous, whether they seemed concerned for the reexaminee as an individual, and whether they were fair. In all three groups, the majority of subjects reported that their attitudes toward DMV had not changed. If they did change, they tended to change for the worse if the reexaminee had been revoked and for the better if he or she kept the license, restricted or not. Most people in all three groups reported that DMV staff had been at least somewhat courteous; 92% in the kept-license group, 100% in the restricted group, and 66% in the revoked group. Eighty percent of respondents in the kept-license group and 70% in the restricted group reported that staff showed at least some concern for them as individuals, compared to 37% in the revoked group. Regarding fairness, 96% of respondents in the kept-license group and 80% in the restricted group reported that staff were either somewhat or very fair, compared to only 27% in the revoked group.

In this sample restricted licensing was satisfying for customers. The restricted group reported little difficulty getting to places they wanted and needed to go to; they claimed to be able to drive almost as much as before their new restriction; they did not report being very angry but on the contrary somewhat happy and relieved; no one in the group claimed that their health had worsened, as 27% in the revoked group did, and their attitude toward the DMV was reported as being generally positive.

Results from the survey for relatives and friends of reexaminees suggested that an older adult's loss of the license to drive affects many more people than just the older adult. Family and friends reported many life style changes in response to their driver's revocation, as well as emotional reactions nearly as strong as those of the former driver. In this sample it was clear that license restriction was a much less stressful event. However, a much larger study and consideration of additional factors would be required in considering how and how much to increase the use of license restriction.

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