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Tougher Licensing Proposed for Elderly Drivers

By Dan Egger-Belandria
State Capital Bureau

January 17, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ When Jason Suroff and his four friends decided to take a road trip to a concert two summers ago, they didn't anticipate swerving out of control into a car flip because of an reckless elderly driver with Alzheimer's disease.

The four friends walked away without harm, but Suroff, the driver, was killed.

Jason's father, Sheldon Suroff, testified before the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee (Tuesday, Jan. 17) to support a bill proposing mandatory driver's examinations for renewing their driver's license.

"Driving is not a right. It's a privilege...It's time to get unsafe drivers off the road. It's time to save lives," Suroff told the committee as his wife Karen tried to control her sobbing.

Since their son's death 18 months ago, the Suroffs founded Concerned Americans for Responsible Driving, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation.

Their efforts have led to legislation that would require periodic driving exams for license renewals.

The proposal _ sponsored by Sen. Irene Treppler, R-Mattese _ would require licensed drivers between ages 16 and 74 to pass a written and road driver's exam every 9 years before renewing their driver's license.

Elderly drivers would face more frequent examinations _ every three years for drivers over the age of 74 and annually for those 80 years or more older.

Treppler said she also has proposed an amendment to require that elderly drivers also be required to pass physical exams for license renewal.

Committee Chairman Danny Staples, D-Eminence, said he supports the bill, especially since he had to ask his own mother to quit driving not long ago. "I know senior citizens who are as good a driver as anyone. But I also know senior citizens who shouldn't be on the highway because they are creating an eminent danger to people they are meeting and passing."

But not everyone was in agreement on the issue. Speaking on behalf of the American Association of Retired Persons, Paul Lineberry said there needs to be further research to identify the predictive factors that identify driving skills.

"We also need to document the driving practices and patterns of older people if they really are different of those of younger people," he said.

The standards for license examination and testing of driving ability should be based on the functional ability and the driving record, not solely on chronological age, he said.

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