October 27, 2006
DRIVERS WITH DISABILITIES AND RETESTING OF ELDERLY DRIVERS
By: James J. Fazzalaro, Principal Analyst
You asked if there are any laws that govern drivers who have physical disabilities, in particular those who become disabled while they hold a driver's license. You also wanted to know if there are any requirements for periodic retesting of elderly drivers in Connecticut.
With regard to your second question, Connecticut has no retesting requirements specific to elderly drivers. Beginning July 1, 2007, however, every licensed driver, regardless of age, will be required to undergo a vision screening on every second driver's license renewal.
People who have medical impairments or physical disabilities are not precluded from getting or retaining drivers' licenses, but they may be required to demonstrate their ability to drive in order to get or retain their driving privilege. The motor vehicle commissioner can issue licenses that have limitations, for example, the requirement that any vehicle the person operates be specially equipped to allow him to operate it safely.
Someone who becomes disabled while holding a current license will not necessarily lose it if it is shown that the impairment does not make him incapable of safe operation. This could require special training and special equipment. For Connecticut residents who cannot get this training through any alternate program, the Department of Motor Vehicles must, by law, provide the training through its handicapped driver training unit. The law also establishes the Motor Vehicle Operator's License Medical Advisory Board. This board, made up of medical professionals representing various disciplines, among other things, advises the motor vehicle commissioner on health standards to guide licensing decisions and makes recommendations to him on individual health problem cases he refers to it.
Someone who becomes disabled is not required by law to disclose this fact or report his condition to the motor vehicle commissioner, but physicians and other medical professionals are permitted by law to report certain facts about someone to the commissioner if in their judgment they have a medical condition that could significantly affect their ability to drive safely.
DRIVING BY PEOPLE WITH MEDICAL IMPAIRMENTS
Under Connecticut law, if a driver's license applicant or license holder has any health problem which might affect his ability to operate a motor vehicle safely, the motor vehicle commissioner may require him to “demonstrate personally or otherwise establish that, notwithstanding the problem, such applicant or license holder is a proper person to operate a motor vehicle…” (CGS § 14-36(e)). The commissioner may also require a certificate of the applicant's condition, signed by a medical authority the commissioner designates. The commissioner may issue or renew a license with such limitations as he deems advisable, but he is not precluded from refusing to issue or renew a license, whether limited or unlimited, or suspending the license of any person he determines to be incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle.
The law allows the commissioner to issue licenses with limitations. The most common type of limited license is one where the holder may only drive while wearing corrective lenses. But other types of limitations include daytime-only driving, driving only on non-limited access highways, operating only a vehicle that has an automatic transmission, operating only a vehicle that is equipped with special controls or equipment, and driving only while wearing a hearing aid. In any case where the commissioner has reason to believe that a license holder or applicant may be subject to limitation, he may require the person to submit to a behind-the-wheel driving test conducted by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to determine his ability to drive safely (Conn. Agencies Regs. § 14-36-4).
The law does not impose a duty upon someone who becomes disabled to inform the motor vehicle commissioner of this fact, but it does permit a physician to report the name, address, and age of anyone he diagnoses with a chronic health problem that may significantly affect his ability to drive a vehicle safely. This includes anyone who has recurrent periods of unconsciousness that are uncontrolled by medical treatment. An optometrist may similarly report on anyone he knows to have a vision problem that will significantly affect his ability to drive (CGS § 14-46).
DMV HANDICAPPED DRIVER TRAINING PROGRAM
Someone who becomes physically disabled while holding a driver's license may be able to retain the license if he can demonstrate that he can still operate a vehicle safely. If, for example, a licensed driver loses the use of a limb, he may still be able to drive a vehicle that has been fitted with special controls that allow him to compensate for the disability and still drive safely. State law requires DMV to run a handicapped driver training program the purpose of which is to evaluate and train people with handicaps to operate motor vehicles (CGS § 14-11b). Any state resident who has a serious physical or mental handicap which does not make him incapable of driving a motor vehicle and who must use special equipment in order to drive, and who cannot get instruction in motor vehicle operation through any alternate program, is eligible for instruction under the DMV program. Further information on the DMV program is available on its website at DMV: Training Services for Drivers with Physical Disabilities.
MOTOR VEHICLE OPERATOR'S LICENSE MEDICAL ADVISORY BOARD
By law, DMV must establish through regulation the standards that are to be used in licensing people with health problems (CGS § 14-45a). These regulations include basic standards governing licensing decisions with respect to the most common and recurrent health problems, procedures for referral of individual cases to the Motor Vehicle Operator's License Medical Advisory Board, and vision standards (Conn. Agencies Regs. § 14-45a-1 et seq.). The medical advisory board has been established by law to, among other things, (1) advise the commissioner on health standards relating to safe vehicle operation, (2) recommend to the commissioner procedures and guidelines for licensing people with health impairments, (3) recommend a training course for DMV examiners on the medical aspects of driver licensure, and (4) make recommendations and offer advice to the commissioner on individual health problem cases the commissioner refers to it (CGS § 14-45c). The advisory board consists of medical professionals representing various medical disciplines.