Bill Calls for More Frequent Screening of Senior Drivers

By: Dana Brueck
By: Dana Brueck

Legislation changes may aid some area seniors through mandatory visits to the DMV to test their performance behind the wheel, determining when it is time for them to put away the car keys for good.

"If I didn't have a driver's license ... be very hard to have this job," State Rep. J.A. Hines says.

Seventy-seven year old Assemblyman J.A. Hines bills himself as the oldest legislator on the job. "I thought at least if I spoke up in favor, then those people a little younger would have the tendency go along with me." Hines is talking about legislation that affects drivers like him, drivers 75-years-old and up.

Hines says, "My license is still good until '06, so that would mean I'd be nine years from - now under existing law - I 'd have to renew my license. Well, that's crazy."

New legislation would require drivers between 75 and 85-years-old to renew their licenses every three years, and take a vision test. Hines says drivers older than 85 years of age would renew their licenses every two years, taking vision and traffic skills tests as well.
Under current law, drivers renew their licenses every eight years.

Most of the seniors at the Stoughton area senior center still get behind the wheel.

"We go to Madison probably three to four times a week," 79-year-old Robert Simmermon says. He drives because his wife cannot. "We're in the age of Macular degeneration and my wife has it so she quit driving because she didn't feel she was safe enough."

Another senior citizen says, "You have to admit there comes a time when you can't do it, but it makes you feel very independent."

One 93-year-old woman says she has acceptable vision, but sees restricted driving as a better option. "I just drive in town here and I know my routes," she says.

But these seniors largely agree, the measure could help do what many older people or their families cannot: remove unsafe drivers from the roads. "If it's gonna do some good, save a life... that's right," Simmermon says.

But, Hines says, some people raised concerns about seniors living in rural areas with less public transportation. He says, "If a person isn't fit to drive, I don't care where they live. They ought not to be allowed to."

Legislators held a hearing on the bill this week. It remains in committee.

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