California Driving Laws for Seniors and Older Drivers

Learn about driving provisions and special programs focused on keeping both California's seniors and roadways safe.

Updated by , Attorney · University of Arkansas School of Law

In California, there are more than 9 million drivers over the age of 55—and 2.9 million of them are 70 or older. While the myriad rules and regulations enforced by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) apply to drivers of all ages and stages, the state imposes some special requirements and restrictions on older drivers.

California state rules are explained in more detail below, but a number of them focus on identifying and handling older drivers who may have become unsafe. Specifically, California:

  • requires drivers age 70 and older to renew their licenses in person and to take both a vision test and written test when doing so
  • accepts requests from family members and others for the DMV to conduct unsafe driver investigations, and
  • requires doctors who diagnose patients with Alzheimer's disease or other conditions that may make them unsafe drivers to report the diagnosis.

California License Renewal Rules for Older Drivers

Special rules apply to drivers who are 70 and older and seek to renew their licenses.

Time limits: Drivers age 70 and older must renew in person every five years.

Vision test: Required at in-person renewal. DMV personnel will conduct a test free, or drivers can have an exam performed by an outside ophthalmologist or optometrist, who must complete a Report of Vision Examination and conduct the exam within six months of the renewal request.

Written test: Required at in-person renewal.

Road test: Required only if there are indications of driver impairment, based on a report by a law enforcement officer, a physician, or a family member.

Restrictions for Unsafe Drivers

The physical and mental changes caused by aging can affect driving skills, though many seniors continue to be safe drivers as they age. To ensure some seniors can drive safely, the DMV might give you a restricted driver's license based on information shared by a doctor or family member, or following an accident.

Possible License Restrictions

The DMV can place restrictions or conditions on a person's driver's license after administering a driving test and discussing possible restrictions with him or her.

The most common restriction for older drivers is to require glasses or corrective contact lenses.

In California, other common requirements the DMV may impose on older drivers include:

  • no freeway driving
  • no nighttime driving
  • other time of day restrictions—for example, no driving during rush hour
  • an extra right-side mirror on a vehicle
  • lumbar supports for a proper driving position
  • geographic area restrictions, and
  • wearing bioptic telescopic lenses when driving.

How to Request an Unsafe Driver Investigation in California

The California DMV will accept information from the driver, courts, police, other DMVs, family members, and virtually any other source. While anonymous reports of unsafe driving will not be accepted, anyone can ask that his or her name be kept confidential, and the DMV vows to honor that confidentiality "to the fullest extent possible."

There are two ways to request that the DMV review driving qualifications:

  • Write a letter identifying the driver who is causing the concern, giving specific reasons for making the report, and mail it to the local Driver Safety Office.
  • Complete a form, Request for Driver Reexamination, and mail it or take it to one of the DMV locations listed on the form.

Mandatory Reporting for Doctors

California is one of only a few states that require doctors who diagnose a patient with a disorder characterized by lapses of consciousness, Alzheimer‘s disease, or any other condition likely to impair driving to report that diagnosis to the local health department, which must forward it to the DMV. The DMV, in turn, has the discretion to pull the patient's license or require a driving test.

California Driver Improvement Programs

Drivers can improve their skills by taking an education and training class specifically developed for older drivers. Look for local course offerings called Mature Driver Improvement Programs.

How to Get a License Reinstated

For information on how to get back a license that has been suspended or revoked in California, contact one of the DMV Driver Safety Offices located throughout the state.

How to Get Parking Placards or License Plates for a Disabled Driver

Disabled placards and plates are available for those who have:

  • mobility problems
  • severe heart or circulatory disease
  • severe lung disease
  • a diagnosed disease or disorder that significantly limits the use of lower extremities
  • specific visual problems, including low-vision or partial-sightedness, or
  • the loss, or loss of the use, of one or both lower extremities or both hands.

Getting a Medical Certification

Disabled person parking placards and license plates can be issued to California drivers who have impaired mobility if the condition is certified by a:

  • licensed physician
  • surgeon
  • physician's assistant
  • nurse practitioner
  • certified nurse-midwife.

In addition, the following medical professionals can certify the need for a placard for certain types of disabilities:

  • licensed chiropractor (for the loss of, or loss of use of, one or both feet)
  • licensed optometrist (for visual conditions, including low vision or blindness)
  • licensed podiatrist (for foot or ankle disabilities).

You don't need a medical certification if you have lost both hands or a foot.

How to Apply for the Handicapped Placard

To obtain a disabled placard or plate:

  • Complete and sign an Application for Disabled Person Placard or Plates (REG 195).
  • Have a licensed physician, surgeon, chiropractor, optometrist, physician's assistant, nurse practitioner, or certified midwife sign the Doctor's Certification portion of the application.
  • Include a fee of $6 for a parking placard for a temporary condition; permanent plates and placards are free.
  • Mail the original application to the address on the form or submit the 195 form online.

California requires you to renew your permanent disabled parking permit every two years, but you can renew the placard online or through the mail.

California Ombudsman Program for Senior Drivers

The California DMV has a Senior Ombudsman Program aimed to keep older adults driving as long as they can do so safely.

The ombudsmen, located in several offices throughout the state, can help ensure that senior drivers are treated fairly and respectfully, and consistently with laws and regulations. They can assist in individual cases, and also conduct outreach seminars to groups aimed at promoting driver safety for seniors.

DMV Senior Ombudsmen are available at the following locations:

  • Sacramento, Northern California—916-657-6464
  • San Francisco, Oakland—510-563-8998
  • Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego—714-705-1588
  • Los Angeles, Oxnard—310-615-3552

Learn More About California Driving Rules for Seniors

The DMV website has a wealth of information for California drivers, including links to the controlling laws and driver license handbooks in several different languages. Of special interest is the Senior Guide for Safe Driving, which includes advice on recognizing and assessing vision and cognitive impairment and conditions that may affect driving. Also see the DMV web page dedicated to Senior Drivers.

You can find the nearest DMV office through an online search of Public Offices by Location.

Updated June 30, 2023

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Get Professional Help

Talk to a Traffic Ticket attorney.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you