Massachusetts bills focus on elderly drivers

| 7/13/2009

Elderly drivers in Massachusetts would face greater scrutiny to get their licenses renewed if some lawmakers get their way.

The push for legislation regulating older drivers has intensified in recent weeks after four wrecks in Massachusetts involving motorists in their 80s and 90s, which caused injuries and death.

Sen. Brian Joyce, D-Milton, wants to require drivers 85 and older to take vision and road tests every five years to renew their licenses. 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 S1929 is a step in the right direction, but impairment can begin well before age 85. 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.

Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen, is considering whether to go a step further by lowering the age for retesting. He wants a new system for the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to identify senior drivers with multiple wrecks and to devise how concerned family members can easily request road exams for elderly relatives.

In addition to the vision test already required, a separate bill – H3287 – would mandate all drivers to pass behind-the-wheel exams every 10 years. One more bill – H2241 – would ask doctors to notify the Registry of Motor Vehicles of any impairments that affect a motorist’s ability to drive. Doctors would be protected from any liability.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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