Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

This week’s question: Why does the DMV use different rules for people 70 years and older to renew their driver’s licenses? Is this age discrimination?
— Duane Terrill, Santa Barbara

State law requires drivers age 70 and older to renew their licenses in person at a California Department of Motor Vehicles office, rather than by mail as is acceptable for younger drivers with good driving records, according to DMV spokesman Marty Greenstein.

That law has been in effect since 1980.

Medical professionals maintain that some key physical abilities, such as reaction time and vision, are not as sharp as a person grows older, Greenstein noted.

“Physicians — especially optometric specialists — stated that some key physical abilities, such as reaction times and vision, might start to deteriorate as a person ages,” he told Noozhawk.

“It was felt that it would not be prudent to allow a driver to go untested for up to 12 years between renewals. So the maximum age of 70 was agreed upon as the age when renewals by mail would no longer be granted.”

Greenstein siad the DMV’s written renewal test serves three potential functions:

» As a screening device to prevent unsafe drivers from renewing a license

» As an educational device for new drivers and for negligent operators to reduce their crash risk and violation propensity

» As an effective diagnostic device for functionally limited drivers, in combination with other assessment and educational tools used during the in-office renewal process.

Data conducted by the DMV and researchers indicate the number of errors on the written test correlates significantly with the likelihood of failing a drive test, Greenstein said.

“Other research groups have found evidence that suggests that license testing requirements (vision testing especially, and perhaps written tests) are associated with reductions in crashes, especially for older drivers,”​ he said.

“This latter function of testing probably reduces deaths on the road (among seniors in particular), in part because it encourages individuals to take responsibility for the reduction and eventual cessation of their own driving.”

The DMV does not support discrimination, and is responsible for ensuring traffic safety, according to its website.

The state agency enforces a number of age-related driving restrictions for teen drivers, too.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.