Massachusetts panel OKs new elderly drivers testing

| 9/22/2009

Older drivers in Massachusetts could soon face greater scrutiny to get their licenses renewed.

The push for legislation regulating older drivers has intensified this year after several wrecks in Massachusetts involving motorists in their 80s and 90s, which have caused injuries and death.

The Joint Committee on Transportation favorably reported a bill that would require drivers 75 and older to pass an examination that tests their physical and cognitive skills. Currently, there are more than 320,000 registered drivers between the ages of 75 and 96 in the state.

Doctors and law enforcement officers would be given immunity to report unsafe drivers to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. The driver’s license would be suspended and reviewed by the registrar within 30 days.

Drivers would have the right to appeal. People who pass the initial tests would be required to repeat them every time their licenses were renewed.

Owner-operator and OOIDA Senior Member Clif Wolfe of Sandwich, MA, said he is concerned about the fairness of the proposed skills test.

“My dad is 91. He still drives. If they start this aptitude test, it may be on a computer. Some of these old people can’t handle computers,” Wolfe told Land Line. “Give them a real test. Give them a driving test. Giving them a simulated test is no good.”

The registrar would also be required to hold hearings and examinations for drivers of any age with three or more wrecks that qualify for an insurance surcharge in the past year. Supporters say the provision is intended to give concerned family members an easy way to have elderly relatives tested who are involved in multiple wrecks.

Massachusetts law now requires residents of all driving ages to pass a vision test every 10 years.

Opponents say it is unfair to focus solely on older drivers. They note that the state prohibits age discrimination in licensing.

Supporters of the change include Gov. Deval Patrick. Others say it is a step in the right direction, but impairment can begin well before age 75. They cite figures that show the number of fatal crashes per mile driven for those over age 75 is more than three times the number for drivers ages 50 to 54.

The bill – H4238 – could soon come up for consideration on the House and Senate floors.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Massachusetts in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to