Senior Driving Test Information

20 November 2019 Assisted Living

Any senior driver who is told they have to take a senior driving test could be afraid that they’re about to lose their license and independence. However, this isn’t necessarily true. The DMV’s licensing standards for seniors and everyone else is the same.

A person’s physical or mental condition and the ability to follow traffic rules and laws are the determining factors that the DMV uses to renew, revoke, suspend, or restrict driving privileges. Age doesn’t factor in.

Why Senior Drivers May Have to Take a Senior Driving Test

There are two main reasons why the DMV may ask you to retake your driving test as a senior. They include:

  1. You didn’t meet the DMV’s minimum requirements for your vision test
  2. A physical or mental condition or lack of driving skill caused your physician, a law enforcement officer, relative, or friend to become concerned about your safety. They could refer you to the Driver Safety Office for a skills check.

Another essential thing to remember is that the DMV can issue a license to any person who has a mental or physical condition if that person can demonstrate that they can drive safely. They can demonstrate the ability to compensate for their condition during a driving test.

You’ll have to take the Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation (SDPE). If you find this test too difficult for your ability level, you can choose to take the Area Driving Performance Evaluation (ADPE). Your DMV examiner can help you decide where you’ll take your driving test. If you pass, you’ll get a driving restriction to this area.

The Senior Driving Visual Exam

One of the most common reasons you’d have to take a senior driving test is because there was a problem with the visual exam. The examiner will have you look at a wall chart that measures your vision keenness. The chart is usually 20 feet away and it has five lines of letters. If you can’t read the letters, the examiner will ask you to look into the Optec 1000. If you don’t meet the 20/40 requirements, you’ll have to go to a vision specialist. The DMV will:

  • Give you a 30-day temporary license if the eyesight in both eyes is better than 20/70.
  • Ask you to visit your vision specialist and get a full exam.

If you have an existing vision condition that the DMV has a record of, it’s not getting worse, and you pass your vision test, you won’t need to see your vision specialist.

Returning to the DMV After Your Vision Specialist Appointment

The DMV will review your specialist findings and recommendations. You’ll take a second vision test. If you pass, the DMV will renew your license. They might add that you need a corrective lens restriction if you passed wearing corrective lenses or contacts.

If you don’t pass, the DMV will schedule you to take a Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation. They want to see if you can compensate for your vision condition and drive safely. You have to wear your contacts or corrective lenses to this test if your vision specialist prescribed them. If you pass, the DMV will renew your license.

Vision-Related Issues the DMV Will Note:

  • Bioptic Telescopic Lens
  • Monovision
  • Brain lesion or tumor
  • Cerebral pals
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Head trauma
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Ocular lesions or Kaposi’s sarcoma
  • Stroke

All of these conditions can cause you to fail your vision test and require you to take the Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation.

Written Senior Driving Test

In addition to taking a vision test, you’ll have to take a written test. You can take the written test three times before you have to pay an additional application fee. There are only 18 questions on the written test. These questions pertain to necessary safe driving skills and general road rules. The questions may also outline the scenarios you encountered while driving.

The written test is available in several different languages. You’ll have to take a traffic signs test if you take it in a foreign language. There are audio and video versions available, as well as a large print edition.

The Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation

If you have to take the Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation, the DMV is trying to determine that:

  • You have the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle
  • You have retained safe-driving habits
  • You can take your knowledge of traffic laws and put them to use in actual practice
  • You can compensate for any physical condition that could compromise your driving ability like limb loss, poor vision, or the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

Your examiner will take note of any skill deficiencies you may have, along with any driving behaviors that may need improvement. They may not disqualify you from keeping your license and they’ll discuss these issues with you when you finish taking your test. You can improve your chances of success by taking a Mature Driver Improvement Program. This course will focus on issues specifically related to senior drivers.

What to Expect During the Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation

When you take this test, it’ll include all of the essential elements a traditional license driving test has. There could also be additional driving elements that help the DMV instructor evaluate your safe driving ability and cognitive function. The features include:

Additional Lane Changes

Your evaluator wants to see how well you make lane changes. Do you check for traffic and signal correctly? Do you use mirrors and look over your shoulder before you make the lane change?



The evaluator will talk to you during the driving test to see how well you can concentrate. Distractions are everywhere, and they want to know if you can respond quickly while focusing on driving.


The examiner will ask you to go to a spot around two or three blocks from the DMV. Once you get there, they’ll ask you to go back to the DMV without any directions or assistance. The examiner or looking for memory lapses or disorientation.

Freeway or Highway Driving

You’ll merge onto the freeway and drive a short while in the traffic. If you have no desire to drive on a freeway or highway and you never do in your ordinary driving routine, discuss it with your examiner. They could put a “no freeway driving” restriction on your license.

Multiple Directions

The examiner will give you two directions at one time. They want to see if you understand the directions and can follow them. For example, they could say, “Change lanes to the right, and make a right-hand turn at the next block.” Perform all of the steps to change lanes before making your turn.

The Area Driving Performance Evaluation

If you can’t pass your Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation, your examiner might suggest that you take the Area Driving Performance Evaluation. They’ll recommend it if they think you can safely drive within a restricted, but clearly defined area.

When you take this evaluation, your test will be in a specific area. Both your examiner and you will determine which area you use for the test. The core of this test is to give you a driving area based on your most significant needs, and it’s usually in the area around your home.

This test could take trips to the bank, grocery store, doctor’s office, golf course, church, and hairstylist into consideration. Whatever routes you drive the most will usually be in the test.

Each person gets a customized Area Driving Performance Evaluation. It’ll use roads or streets you take to get from your home to a specific location and then back home. After you meet the license requirements and pass this test, you’ll get a restricted license. This type of license allows you to drive only in a set and limited area, and you won’t be allowed to drive on the highway or freeway.

How to Prepare for Your Senior Driving Test

If you need to take a senior driving test and you’ve never done it before, being nervous is typical. It might be helpful to go over the California Driver Handbook and the How to Prepare for Your Driving Test pamphlet. There is also a guide that the DMV originally meant for teenagers that can be helpful. It’ll let you review driving practices and go over some skills that you may have forgotten or were not aware of in the first place.

A second option is to ask another driver to come for a ride with you and review your driving skills. An adult child is a good choice, or any younger adult that you’re comfortable with. They’ll sit in the passenger seat and watch you drive. You want them to take note of any driving errors you make along with any driving behavior that could cause unsafe driving conditions. This person should use a non-critical manner to critique your driving skills, and you:

  1. Shouldn’t get offended by what your observer tells you. You want them to be as truthful as possible to give you the best chance of passing. These critiques aren’t a personal criticism of you. They’re making them out of concern for your safety when you’re out and about driving around.
  2. Make sure you listen very thoroughly to their remarks and ask for suggestions to improve. If you make errors that you can correct, you can start to develop safer driving habits in time for your test.
  3. Take a while and carefully consider your driving future. If the observer feels like your driving skills have gotten to the point where they feel like you’re not safe when you’re driving, don’t get upset or defensive. Instead, ask if they can give you any examples or reasons. Listen to these reasons and examples. Use them to help you decide if it’s time to officially “retire” your license or if you think you can improve your skills.

Once you get a list of areas where you need to improve your driving skills, start practicing ways to make them safer. If you find that there are a few driving maneuvers or situations that cause confusion, ask for help. Your observer can explain them to you and review them.

Taking a Mature Drivers Course is another option available to you. This course features defensive driving technique discussion in a classroom setting, and it also covers California motor vehicle laws. A licensed driving school offers behind-the-wheel driver instruction that can help you improve your skills in a safe environment. Your instructor can also help clear up any confusion you may have about driving, laws, or maneuvers.

If you don’t want to commit to a full set of driving courses, you can take one or two a week or a few days before you take your actual exam. This can help ensure that everything stays fresh in your mind when you go into the test, and it can boost your confidence levels as well.

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