Is road test for seniors on the way out? Legislation seeks changes
Legislation that could end or ease a requirement for senior drivers to undergo road tests is percolating in Springfield with bipartisan support.
“What we have in place today, I think, is unfair for Illinois seniors because no other state subjects them to a driving test,” state Rep. Jeff Keicher said.
Illinois mandates drivers age 79 and 80 to take a road exam if their four-year license renewal is up. For drivers age 81 to 86, it’s every two years, and for those 87 and older, it’s yearly.
The Sycamore Republican has filed House Bill 4431. It proposes ending the age requirement, but is intended to spark a dialogue and likely will be amended, said Keicher, an insurance agent.
He hopes to “push the discussion forward. Can we develop some sort of competency screening to allow those seniors that are capable and able-bodied to continue to drive without the onerous restrictions they have to go through every two years to renew their license?” Keicher asked.
On the Democratic side, state Rep. Joyce Mason of Gurnee has introduced Bill 3793, which would strike the age provision.
Research from the Illinois secretary of state’s office and AARP shows “that older drivers are among the safest drivers and we should be following the data,” Mason said.
“If we are not following the data, then we’re essentially discriminating based on perception of age and we’re better than that.”
It’s not a rivalry, however. Last week, the two lawmakers signed on as sponsors of the other’s bill.
Numerous older drivers contacted the Daily Herald in fall 2023 after Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias shifted to an appointment-only system for driver’s services such as road exams at a majority of facilities.
Many complained they had trouble scheduling appointments and that using age 79 as a trigger was unfair to people with clean driving records.
“I shouldn't have to take a test because of my age,” said John Billis of Prairie View, 75.
Asked in January if he supported legislation ending the age requirement, Giannoulias said “everything we do in the office is data-driven.
“If the data’s there that (senior) drivers are safe, which it’s shown to be, I have no problem with looking at legislation that helps ease the burden on our seniors,” Giannoulias said.
The secretary of state's study found that in 2022, Illinois motorists age 75 and older had a crash rate of 24.39 per 1,000 drivers, the second lowest in the state.
However, nationwide the statistics can be contradictory. A recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety report found a steep rise in fatal crash rates per miles traveled for elderly drivers.
The average fatal crash rate per miles traveled nationwide is 1.8. For individuals ages 50 through 69 it averages about 1.3, the insurance institute said. That number increases to 1.7 for drivers ages 70 to 74 and goes up to 7.6 for those 85 and older.
But experts also point out that seniors tend to drive less and elderly people are more susceptible to fatal injuries.
Keicher hopes to engage doctors, AARP, the insurance industry and experts on aging to build criteria for licensing. Ideas could include allowing able-bodied seniors to get a longer renewal period and a “little more rigorous” evaluation for those with health problems.
“I am committed to talking to all sides of the issue. I don’t think we want to rush this through,” he said.
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