N.H. Considers ‘Degraduated’ License, More Tests for Elderly Drivers

September 27, 2006

New Hampshire’s motor vehicles director wants elderly drivers to be tested more often.

Virginia Beecher told the New Hampshire Sunday News she supports shortening the renewal time as drivers age. She said older drivers would have to take vision and road tests more frequently to make sure they can still drive safely.

She said a “degraduated” license system allows officials to “judge the physical and mental capabilities of that person on a more regular basis.”

She said that might mean — for example — that drivers over 80 would be tested every three years instead of after five years as is the case now.

“I am 100 percent behind a degraduated license,” Beecher said. “But I am also very supportive of keeping people who are capable of driving on the road for as long as they can.”

Beecher comments come after an 81-year-old driver hit a young boy in Manchester and dragged him a half block before stopping.

She said a degraduated system would have other benefits besides keeping closer watch on elderly drivers. A license examiner might be willing to renew a license for less than the five-year renewal currently in law — allowing some drivers to keep driving longer.

“There is no leeway at all” now, she said.

Elderly drivers also might be better able to afford $10 for a one-year renewal rather than $50 for the full five years, she said.

“We don’t want to take someone’s independence from driving until it’s absolutely, 100 percent necessary,” she said.

The state has 140,000 licensed drivers over age 65. As of last month, 31,000 were 80 and older while 2,800 were 90 and older. There are 19 licensed drivers who are 99 and 15 who are at least 100. Drivers aged 75 and older must take a road test and pass a vision test to renew their license.

Peter Thomson, highway safety coordinator, also supports the change. The key should be the person’s ability to drive, he said. He said he knows one Orford woman who continues to drive well at age 100, though she only drives during the day.

His father, former Gov. Meldrim Thomson, stopped driving much younger due to advanced symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

“It was exceedingly difficult. He got mad at us,” he said.

Manchester Police Officer Jeff Bolduc, who teachers a safety course for older drivers, said he knows drivers in their 80s who are extremely safe and some in their 40s who are not. The difference can be how well people age — their vision, hearing, mobility, reflexes and reaction time.

Magella Houle, the Manchester woman who struck the boy, had passed a road test last June and had an exemplary record before the accident, said Beecher.

After the accident, the state temporarily suspended her license.


Information from: New Hampshire Union Leader,

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