Do California Seniors Need to Pass a Driving Test?

It’s not likely to be an issue. Licensing standards are the same for all drivers in the state of California regardless of age; however, because Senior drivers are more likely to have mental or physical impairments due to advanced age, they face a unique set of challenges. The DMV takes your physical and mental condition into account to determine whether or not a driving test is necessary. This is true regardless of age, but it more often applies to seniors for the reasons noted above.

In spite of the challenges facing seniors and/or mentally and physically impaired individuals, seniors will only be asked to take driving tests in extreme cases, so the likelihood any particular senior may have to test is still not very high. If you do not meet the minimum requirements for vision determined by the DMV, a driving test will be required. Minimum vision requirements mean that you must be able to pass either the standard over-the-counter wall chart test or the vision acuity test using the Optec 1000 vision tester. Additionally, if the DMV determines that you lack basic driving skills, or if you have a physical or mental condition that might interfere with your ability to operate a vehicle, a driving test will be required.

The DMV determines your driving ability based on several criteria. They may determine that you lack adequate driving skill and need your driving ability checked if:

  • You were referred to the DMV by a law enforcement officer
  • You were referred to the DMV by your personal physician or a medical professional
  • The DMV has been contacted by a close friend or relative who is concerned that you might cause harm to yourself or others by operating a motor vehicle
  • You were referred to the DMV by one of California’s 15 Driver Safety offices

Even if one or more of the above scenarios is true, it is still possible to obtain or retain your California driver license. You simply have to demonstrate your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. That’s where the driving test comes in, and the type of test you take depends on the level of driving ability you can demonstrate.

Types of Driving Tests

There are two types of driving tests for seniors who have demonstrated lack of driving skill or driving impairment. The Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation (SDPE) is designed to determine if the customer can compensate for his or her physical and/or mental impairment during the test. A successful SDPE determines whether the operator can maintain safe driving techniques on California’s roads and highways. The SDPE is designed to determine the following:

  1. If the driver demonstrates the ability to compensate for early on-set dementia
  2. If the driver demonstrates the ability to compensate for loss of limb
  3. If the driver demonstrates the ability to compensate for inadequate vision or any another physical condition that might impair the ability to safely drive in accordance with California driving regulations
  4. If the driver has developed proper and adequate safe-driving habits
  5. If the driver can safely operate a motor vehicle
  6. If the driver fully understands all traffic laws and has the ability to employ that understanding when driving

The test examiner will keep track of any deficiencies in driving skill during the SPDE, as well as any behavior that might interfere with operation of the motor vehicle. The examiner will note any issues, and afterward, discuss any and all steps you need to take to improve these deficiencies. Even if it is determined that you have demonstrated some of these types of deficiencies, the SPDE will not necessarily prohibit you from obtaining or keeping your license.

In the event that you cannot perform the SDPE or perform it poorly, another test may be available. The DMV offers the option of the Area Driving Performance Evaluation (ADPE). This test is simpler because it reduces the complexity by taking place in a restricted area determined by the DMV officer. If you pass the ADPE you will be issued a driver license that is restricted to the types of areas covered in the test.

Practice is the best policy, regardless of whether you think you will need to test or not. It always helps to be ready, and furthermore it improves driving ability. Better drivers are safer drivers, and the more aware you are of the rules of the road as well as other people on the road, the safer all California roads will be. The best way to practice is to take a driver education class. There are education and training classes designed exclusively for older drivers. Choose from this list of Mature Driver Improvement Programs to get started. When you’re ready, check out the DMV’s guide for preparing for the SDPE: California Preparing for Your Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation Guide

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