Bill to end senior road tests ‘still alive,’ as legislators eye veto session reset

It’s been a bumpy General Assembly ride for legislation intended to eliminate age-triggered behind-the-wheel driving tests for seniors, but its sponsors still are holding on.

House Bill 4431 hit obstacles in the Illinois House and Senate, which adjourned last week, but its supporters, Republican Rep. Jeff Keicher and Sen. Don DeWitte, hope for better luck in the fall veto session.

Illinois mandates drivers ages 79 and 80 take a road exam if their four-year license renewal is up. For drivers ages 81 to 86, it’s every two years, and for those 87 and older, it’s yearly.

Illinois is the only state in the U.S. with that requirement, which many seniors have described as onerous, patronizing and unfair.

Keicher, of Sycamore, introduced legislation to end the mandate in January and 46 Democrats and Republicans — 40% of the House — became co-sponsors. But it was blocked by an unknown lawmaker in April, likely a high-ranking Democrat, he said.

The maneuver infuriated multiple seniors, including Walter Perlick, 82, of Des Plaines.

“I have taken the test twice and passed. However, this is a law that discriminates against seniors and should be removed,” Perlick told the Daily Herald.

Keicher intends to meet with the secretary of state’s office and senior organizations over the summer to tweak the bill so it can cross the finish line.

Rather than someone’s birthday prompting a road test, Keicher is considering other triggers related to the ability to operate a vehicle safely.

For example, anyone facing renewals could be asked to take an online questionnaire requiring yes or no answers to questions about previous accidents or tickets, physical conditions affecting safe operation of a vehicle and diagnoses of mental capacity issues, such as dementia or a stroke.

Answers could lead to additional online or written tests and potentially behind-the-wheel exams.

This approach should be rolled out to other age groups as well, Keicher said.

“There is still a very high degree of interest in moving forward,” he said.

In the Senate, DeWitte of St. Charles introduced similar legislation that gained momentum but was parked in the Assignments Committee.

“The bill is still alive,” DeWitte said, noting he’d conferred with Democratic Senate President Don Harmon.

Harmon “believes that one of the reasons why Illinois has such a low accident rate within that particular senior driver age category is because we do test our senior drivers on an annual basis,” DeWitte said.

However, “I shared with him some national data that showed Illinois is equivalent to national statistics for the percentage of safe drivers within that same senior age bracket.”

Bottom line, DeWitte is optimistic the legislation will get a second look during veto session.

Asked to comment, Harmon spokesman John Patterson said “the Senate president is interested in getting safety data and engaging the secretary of state’s office on this issue.”

The looming November election also might have derailed the bill this spring, DeWitte noted. But, “I believe there is broad-based support for this legislation,” he said.

You should know

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Gridlock alert

Barrington-area drivers should give themselves extra time as IDOT crews resurface Route 59 between Main Street and Hawthorne Road. Temporary daytime lane closures are scheduled; work should wrap up in September.

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