Gov. Patrick favors even tougher driving law for seniors


BOSTON, July 2 —

Gov. Deval Patrick last week signed legislation that requires s new license renewal procedures and other considerations for mature drivers, bans text-messaging for all Massachusetts drivers and prohibits junior operators from using cell phones.

Less than one week later, during his monthly appearance on WTKK -FM, the governor said  he thinks the Legislature will revisit tighter restrictions on elderly drivers in Massachusetts.

The Democrat said July 7 a law he signed last week requiring in-person vision tests for seniors was the best he could get. He said, “It’s not nothing. It’s not even a baby step. It’s a big step.”

Patrick said he favors cognitive testing for seniors, and it may be resurrected.

After the signing of the law, Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton, said,  “I believe this is a good first step to improving the safety of our roads. As a medical professional and a legislator, I am so pleased that the Safe Driving Bill will finally become law in the Commonwealth and includes strengthening our medical reporting system, which for the first time in Massachusetts will identify functional and cognitive changes in individuals.”

The MassDOT Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) will  require any driver age 75 or older to renew their license in person at an RMV branch or office location and undergo a vision test every five years.

The division will also develop standards to help law enforcement, health care providers and families better assess a driver’s ability to handle a vehicle safely.

Additionally, under the new law, any driver who accrues three or more surchargeable incidents within a two year period will be required to take a driver retraining and safety course or face the suspension of their license.

This legislation is the result of input and support from advocates for safe roads and safe driving including AAA, Safe Roads Alliance, and members of the Safe Roads Now Coalition, along with the AARP and other elder services advocates, according to a statement from the governor’s office.

“AARP commends state leaders for taking important steps toward improving road safety in the Commonwealth,” said Linda Fitzgerald, AARP Massachusetts state president.  “While not perfect, we believe this new law will help make the roads safer for everyone, AARP’s goal all along,” she said.

“It contains major provisions that AARP advocated for to identify impaired drivers and get them off the road, in particular, a strengthened medical reporting system and tightened accident-related trigger system,” Fizgerald added.

“Further, it requires drivers age 75 and older to renew their licenses in person and take a vision test; AARP disagreed with this provision because it imposes testing based on a birthday as opposed to ability,” Fizgerald said.

“This bill will save lives in Massachusetts,” said Jeff Larson, President of Safe Roads Alliance. “We need to keep up with the technology that is causing such great distraction for drivers. This bill goes a long way to accomplishing that goal.”

Also, under the new law, which takes effect in October, any driver caught composing or reading a text message can be cited and fined $100. Operators of public transportation vehicles who violate the ban will be subject to a $500 fine. Law enforcement will have the authority to stop any driver suspected of texting. However, the offense will not be considered a moving violation and will not be subject to an insurance surcharge.

Drivers under 18 cited for using any type of cell phone or mobile electronic device with or without a hands-free feature will be subject to a $100 fine and a 60-day suspension of their driver’s license. Offenders will also have to complete a driver attitudinal course before their license is reinstated. Massachusetts is the 29th state to ban dangerous driving behavior.

“This bill sends a clear message to all drivers, regardless of age, that when behind the wheel, your primary focus should be driving,” said Sen. Steven A. Baddour, D-Methuen, Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation. “This is a major step forward to ensure the continued safety of the motoring public.”

Associated Press material was used in this report.