Q&AZ: 6 Common Questions About Arizona Driver's Licenses

By Claire Caulfield
Published: Monday, March 11, 2019 - 8:06am
Updated: Thursday, June 6, 2019 - 12:37pm

Bar bouncers across the country raise their eyebrows. Recent transplants are confounded.

Expiration dates on Arizona driver's licenses often show a date decades away.

KJZZ listeners Renee and Elise were among the many people who asked about Arizona driver’s licenses through our Q&AZ reporting project, so we decided to tackle all the questions at once:

Why Do Arizona Driver’s Licenses Last So Long?

Arizona law states that a driver's license doesn’t need to be renewed until the driver turns 65 years old.

The standards were set by Arizona lawmakers decades ago, and in 1999 state legislators actually voted to extend the renewal age from 60 to 65.

“That was a choice to presumably make it more convenient for people to not have to go into a MVD (Motor Vehicle Department) office every several years to renew a driver license,” said Doug Nick, spokesman for Arizona MVD.

While newly licensed 16-year-olds may think they’ll have the same physical licence until 2068, that’s a misconception. Arizona residents are required by law to update their license photo every 12 years.

Although it’s not a legal requirement, many choose to update their license when they turn 18-years-old and again after their 21st birthday.

Retirees who move to Arizona will see an expiration date more in line with the rest of the country.

“Once you turn 65, you do need to come in every five years to renew,” Nick said.

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According to a 2012 legislative analysis by the Associated Press, Arizona does have the longest possible renewable period, because technically a 16-year-old would not have to fully renew for 49 years.

Colorado and South Carolina are in second place, as most drivers in those states have to renew only every 10 years. Most states require drivers to renew every four years.

Even if you consider the requirement to update license photos every 12 years, Arizona still has the longest renewal period.

What Do The License Fees Go Toward?

In fiscal year 2018, the Arizona Department of Transportation collected $57,503,000 from MVD license fees and other fees.

That money goes into a general “Highway User Revenue Fund” that covers a number of department expenses, including the entire cost of producing and administering driver’s licenses.

The fund also includes revenue from fuel and motor taxes and other motor vehicle fees. The $1,455,779,000 deposited into this fund in fiscal year 2018 went to cities, towns and counties around the state as well as the state highway fund, the Department of Public Safety and the economic strength project fund.

Does The Long Renewable Period Hurt State Revenue?

While the state would be collecting more revenue if it enacted a shorter renewable period, it could result in a net loss.

The entire licensing process is expensive, from staffing MVD offices to creating secure IDs.

“In the last few years, the security protocols have gotten more and more significant and that means the production has to come with all the holograms and other security measures that are embedded in a credential,” Nick said. “It's a fairly robust process.”

The cost factor led the Maryland Legislature to change its renewal period from five years to eight years in 2012, and said it would save the state millions of dollars.

“I don’t think it was the intent of the Legislature or any state agency to try and drive more money into the state by causing people to come in more often,” Nick said.

Does The Long Renewable Period Endanger Public Safety?

There isn’t data to answer this question, because it would be incredibly difficult for the state or judicial system to determine whether a driver involved in an accident would have been denied a license renewal under stricter laws.

However, Nick said he doesn’t think there’s a real threat, because he has faith in Arizona’s medical review program.

“If someone believes there is a driver that is perhaps compromised due to health issues or something else that makes them eligible for having their credential reviewed, there is actually a medical review program that can be done confidentially,” he said.

Nick said ADOT does not keep statistics on how many medical review requests it receives or how many reviews result in driving restrictions.

The MVD partners with independent medical professionals who make recommendations to the state on whether an individual can safely drive.

“This is something that can be done with family, if you have an elderly person in the family who is reaching a point in life where they may not be the best person to be behind the wheel,” he said. “That's a very difficult decision, of course.”

The majority of states, including Arizona, do have shorter renewal periods or stricter requirements for older residents because fatal crash rates increase dramatically after the age of 70. And according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, crash rates peak at age 85.

Arizona, with its requirement that drivers over 65 renew their license every five years, doesn’t stand out when it comes to the percentage of drivers 65 or older involved in a fatal crash.

The most recent data from the National Center for Statistic and Analysis shows 13.1 percent of all drivers involved in a fatal crash in Arizona were 65 or older. That’s slightly below the 2016 national average of 13.7 percent.

Thirty-six states have a higher percentage than Arizona, including Maine, where drivers over 65 must renew every four years instead of every six. Additionally, Maine drivers over the age of 62 must take a vision test at every renewal. Still, the state saw one of the highest percentages in the country, with 18 percent of all drivers involved in a fatal crash being 65 or older.

Comparing renewal requirements to crash rates requires the caveat that correlation does not equal causation, and fatal crash rates involving seniors vary widely in states with similar renewal periods and requirements for older drivers.

Does The Long Renewal Period Compromise Signature Verification on Ballots?

The Arizona Secretary of State's Office declined to talk to KJZZ for this story, but in Maricopa county at least, the long renewal period can complicate ballot verification.

“We do have signatures that may not be as mature as the current signature for the voter, for example, still the heart over the ‘i’ or the smiley face,” said Maricopa County Election Director Rey Valenzuela.

Arizona has a “motor-voter” law, which means residents can register to vote at MVD offices and the so signature on their driver’s license would be the same one on their voter registration.

Valenzuela says this only becomes an issue if someone lives at the same address for many years or doesn’t update their voter registration when they move.

“When you update your registration or check in at a ballot location we log an updated signature,” he said.   

Maricopa County received 1.1 million early ballots during the 2018 election. Valenzuela said about 25,000 were deemed questionable and after a thorough review process, only 377 were nullified.  

“No ballot is ever denied or made bad just because the signature doesn’t match,” he said. “Because we know signatures do change.”

“When it’s deemed questionable we will reach out to the voter be email, by mail and by phone,” Valenzuela said.

Which is why it’s so important that the county has current contact information so an election worker can verify when and how a voter submitted a ballot.

If an election worker does verify a ballot in this way, they’ll ask the voter permission to update their signature off the most recently submitted ballot so the entire process doesn’t repeat itself during the next election.  

Voters in Maricopa County can check their early ballot status online.  

“If you are one of the 1.6 million Arizonans who have been voting early and you have not heard from us then likely we have a signature that is updated,” he said.

Why Will The TSA No Longer Accept Arizona Driver’s Licenses in 2020?

Starting Oct. 1, 2020, Arizonans will no longer be able to use their driver’s license as an ID at TSA checkpoints at the airport. Regularly issued driver's licenses are not in line with federal credential standards.

However, it’s not due to the state’s long renewal period.

In 2005, Congress enacted stricter credential standards for air travelers. But in 2015, the Arizona Legislature said the state cannot compel residents to get a federal ID.

Arizona is one of 37 states where residents have to voluntarily seek a federal I., so Arizonans will have to use an alternative federal or travel credential to board an airplane.

“We don't want people to be stuck at the airport in October of 2020,” said Doug Nick, spokesman for Arizona MVD. He also said his agency is preparing for a last-minute rush at MVD offices before the deadline. “So now would be a great time to make an appointment.”

Nick says that the long renewal period does make it more difficult for the agency to raise awareness about this change. The travel IDs only became available in April 2016.

“The challenge for us is people don't come in every three to five years, or whatever it might be, to renew their driver license,” Nick said.

It costs $25 to make your current driver’s licence federally compliant or to get a separate travel ID, which will need to be renewed every eight years. Residents need to bring documents confirming their identity, Social Security number and Arizona residency.

Have even more questions about Arizona driver’s licenses, or other questions about our state?

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