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Massachusetts Elder–Driving Law Attempts to Address Safety Concerns

On behalf of posted in car accidents on Tuesday September 7, 2010

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has signed a law that attempts to address safety concerns over elderly drivers. The new legislation requires drivers older than 75 to apply for driver’s license renewals in person and to pass a vision test every five years instead of every 10 years, which was previously the law.

Some legislators are happy with the new law. Sen. Steven A. Baddour, a Methuen Democrat and chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation, said it was good enough, pointing out that New Hampshire has the same requirement.

Others are disappointed with the changes. Sen. Brian A. Joyce, a Milton Democrat and longtime proponent of tougher elder–driving laws, called it a missed opportunity to do more to screen dangerous drivers and prevent some future accidents.

Vision Issues May Not Be Primary Culprit in Elderly Driving Accidents

Indeed, this legislation fails to address some of the biggest safety concerns surrounding elderly drivers. According to Registry of Motor Vehicles accident reports reviewed by the office of Senator Joyce, vision problems are rarely the cause of accidents involving elderly drivers. When nearly half of all people age 75 and older suffer from dementia, confusion and disorientation are the more likely culprits, and they cannot be measured by a vision test.

On the same day that Massachusetts legislators were championing their agreement on the elder–driving provisions, an 89-year-old woman hit a 72-year-old pedestrian as she pulled out of a parking lot. According to police, the victim draped across the hood of the car and then slid to the pavement as the driver realized her error and hit the brakes. Luckily, the victim was not seriously injured.

Lawmakers could have required people over 75 to get written endorsement from their doctor stating that their mental faculties and physical abilities are sufficient to drive before they can renew their driver’s license. In fact, the original House and Senate bills sought to encourage doctors and police officers to notify the state about people who should not be driving by granting them immunity from related lawsuits.

However, those provisions were removed from the bills, and more frequent vision tests are all that remain to try to improve road safety for elderly drivers. Independence is important for seniors, but better screening would help to identify and remove the minority of unworthy drivers and make the roads safer for us all.

Related Resource: “Gov. Deval Patrick Signs Bill to Ban Texting While Driving in Massachusetts

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