Sen. Brian Joyce’s proposed bill requiring regular driver’s tests for drivers over 85 is facing new competition in the Legislature – a proposal to weed out bad drivers by medical condition rather than age.
Legislation filed by Sen. Brian Joyce two years ago to require regular driver’s tests for drivers over 85 is facing new competition in the Legislature – a proposal to weed out bad drivers by medical condition rather than age.
The bill, filed by Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton, would require physicians to report to state authorities any patient whose medical condition presents a danger on the roads.
Khan’s bill comes after a string of South Shore accidents in which elderly drivers were involved, including the crash of a station wagon driven by an 82-year-old man into the Council on Aging building in Joyce’s hometown of Milton earlier this week.
Khan said Joyce’s bill – which has remained in committee for two years since he filed it – chooses a specific age to target, which is too arbitrary.
“Some say it should be 82, some say 86. How can you take that age?” she asked.
The Milton Democrat disagreed, saying that an age cutoff is the most logical and fairest way to keep the roads safe.
“Various studies show that driving skills diminish beyond the age of 85,” said Joyce, whose bill requires drivers 85 and older to pass road and vision tests to keep their licenses.
Last week, Gov. Deval Patrick said that imposing special requirements on older drivers is in the public’s best interest, even if it’s unpopular.
Joyce cited a Carnegie Mellon University analysis of traffic statistics from 1999 to 2000 that found the mile-for-mile fatality rate was about three times higher for drivers 85 and older on weekdays than it is for teenagers.
Khan’s bill would require physicians to tell the Registry of Motor Vehicles about patients 16 and older who have medical conditions that might affect their driving ability.
“People in any age group can be impaired for various reasons. There are changes happening that affect the capability of drivers,” Khan said.
Khan acknowledged one major potential pitfall in her proposal: the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations that mandate doctors must guarantee a patient’s confidentiality.
But she said that her bill protects physicians and patients because information given to the Registry would stay confidential and only be used to determine if a person is qualified to operate a motor vehicle.
“The bill has stated physicians are immune from civil liability if they report in good faith,” Khan said.
Joyce said he remains hopeful that a bill would be passed this year.
“It is a political reality. (Age) 85 would be easier to pass than 75. If the transportation committee decides to start the age earlier like 75, I would support it.”
Joyce is pushing his legislation after the spate of recent accidents involving elderly drivers.
Last week, an 89-year-old Taunton man was killed when he drove into oncoming traffic. Authorities said he may have been suffering from a medical problem at the time.
On primary day Feb. 5, an 86-year-old driver lost control of his sport-utility vehicle and critically injured an 8-year-old girl who was outside her school in Randolph.
A 79-year-old retired East Bridgewater fire chief may be charged for crashing his pickup truck into a car in Whitman in December, killing the car’s 55-year-old driver.
And a 76-year-old Rockland woman has been charged with motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation after she drove her car into Brockton Hospital in October, killing a doctor and a secretary working in the radiation department.