Senate Passes Elderly Driver Restrictions

Bill Now in House/Senate Conference

MARCH 3, 2010: On Tuesday, the Mass State Senate passed its version of the so-called "Safe Driver" bill (S2290). The bill, which drew a spirited debate amongst Senators from both parties, contains language that would require drivers age 75 and older to undergo a cognitive and physical abilities test in order to renew their license.

A floor amendment (contained below) to S2290 places the administration of such a test in the hands of primary care physicians, rather than the Registry of Motor Vehicles, as had earlier been the plan. However, the RMV would help set the standards and specifics of the test.

The Association supported efforts by Senator Gail Candaras (D-Wilbraham) to remove the testing requirements from the bill, along with amendments that would have ensured the privacy and due process rights of retirees. Candaras was joined in the floor debate by Senator Ken Donnelly (D-Arlington), a retired firefighter and Association member. Donnelly argued for a cognitive review of all drivers, regardless of age.

"Our members have a sense that this is a form of discrimination or bias against people based on age. The extra $30, fee that low income retirees would be forced to pay, on top of already expensive license renewal fees, is insulting," said Association President Ralph White. "We are also concerned that these tests have not yet been developed or properly vetted. It seems premature to pass a bill based on a lot of unknowns."

Since the bill passed in February by the House did not contain new testing requirements for elderly drivers, the issue will now be sent to a House/Senate conference committee. The conference committee will draft a compromise version of the bill, which will then be voted up or down by both chambers in the coming weeks.

The following is the amendment to Section 4 of S2290, which is the main component of the legislation applying to drivers 75 and older:

SECTION 4. Said chapter 90 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 8L the following section:-

Section 8M. (a) For purposes of this section, a "health care provider'' shall be a primary care physician or other treating healthcare professional, as defined in chapter 112, with knowledge of an applicant's overall physical and cognitive abilities.

(b) Notwithstanding any provision of the first paragraph of section 8, an applicant for a license, or the renewal of a license, age 75 or older shall apply in person. The applicant shall submit an elderly driving assessment form completed by the applicant's health care provider in the health care provider's professional capacity, and the applicant shall submit the assessment form to the registrar. The elderly driving assessment form shall assess the applicant's cognitive and physical ability, including a vision test, and any other condition that might prevent such applicant from operating a motor vehicle. The elderly driving assessment form shall be developed by the registrar in consultation with the medical advisory board established in section 8C. An applicant for a license renewal shall complete the form upon the expiration of 60 months from attainment of the age of 75 years, and every 36 months thereafter. No license shall be issued until the registrar is satisfied that the applicant is a qualified person to receive it. The registry shall charge a fee not to exceed $30 for purposes of this paragraph.

An applicant age 75 or older who, after having submitted the assessment form, has been determined by the registrar not to meet the minimum cognitive, visual and physical abilities required to safely operate a motor vehicle, may petition the registrar for a road test as prescribed by the registrar to demonstrate the requisite driving skills necessary for licensure. Unless the registrar determines that permitting the driver to take a road test would present a safety risk to the general public, the driver shall be permitted to take a road test to determine proficiency operating a motor vehicle. The registrar shall make a determination as to whether licensure is warranted.

A person age 75 years or older, whose license to operate a motor vehicle has been suspended or revoked by the registrar pursuant this chapter or section 113B of chapter 175, may request reconsideration to the registrar. Upon reconsideration, the registrar shall determine whether the person has demonstrated that he is capable of safely operating a motor vehicle and the registrar shall issue findings to support his determinations which shall be based on standards developed by the registrar, in consultation with the medical advisory board.

Any such determination by the registrar under this section may be appealed in accordance with section 28.

With respect to any person whose license to operate a motor vehicle has been revoked by the registrar pursuant to this chapter or pursuant to section 113B of chapter 175 the registrar shall provide an identification card as provided for in section 8E.