I can't drive, 85?

Friday, October 12
BOSTON — Legislators battled yesterday over a proposed law that would require drivers over the age of 85 to take road and vision tests every five years.

The bill, filed by Sen. Brian Joyce, D-Milton, and debated before the Joint Transportation Committee, was seen by some as discriminatory to elderly residents, but others saw it as a matter of safety.

Joyce cited a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showing that, for drivers aged 16 to 20, there were 3.03 fatalities for every 100 million miles driven, compared with 11.47 fatalities for every 100 million miles driven by those 85 and older.

"Massachusetts is one of only three states that don't take affirmative steps to protect our senior drivers," he said.

In 2006, 88-year-old Joseph Majchrowski struck Alice D. Collins, 73, and Agnes E. Street, 85, at the intersection of Wahconah and Alcove streets in Pittsfield. The two women were both treated at the scene before being transported to Berkshire Medical Center. Local residents said that traffic signals in the crosswalk often are ignored in the area.

Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, said that the commonwealth should do everything it can to make roads safe, but that legislation should reflect the entire population.

"Every driver should reach a certain minimum vision and aptitude standard," he said.

According to the study, 26 states and the District of Columbia have added provisions for older drivers.

In Massachusetts, elderly drivers now follow the same requirements for other residents. A license renewal and an eye exam are required every five years; photographs must be updated every 10 years. Joyce said that his bill comes at a good time, following new laws and regulations for teen drivers, including a more standardized driver's education curriculum.

But his proposal faces stiff opposition from some fellow lawmakers. Rep. Joseph F. Wagner, D-Chicopee, opposes the bill, calling it "arbitrary and discriminatory." He said he would be more likely to support a bill that tested drivers of all ages at intervals.

"A better way to ensure safety would be to revisit drivers' qualifications at various intervals throughout one's life instead of picking the elderly out of the crowd," Wagner said.

He also said that it is wrong to link teen drivers to senior drivers because younger drivers do not have the same experience behind the wheel as the elderly.

The Carnegie Mellon national statistics reported in 2005 that 1,391 nonfatal accidents were caused by elderly drivers, compared with 5,991 nonfatal accidents caused by 16- to 18-year-olds in Massachusetts.

Chryste Hall, spokeswoman for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), agreed with Wagner. She said the association supports routine tests for all drivers.

"Being a safe driver is not based on age, it's based on ability," she said.


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