Bill would require cognitive impairment test for elderly drivers

Older drivers would be required to take a cognitive impairment test under a bill heard by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee Feb. 5.

Under LB351, introduced by Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms, drivers who are 80 years old and older whose tests indicate cognitive impairment would be required to take and pass the standard written test.

Harms said the aging population is increasing due to advances in medicine and technology. However, he said, the aging process causes senior citizens to experience slower reaction times, memory and vision loss and other issues that impair judgment.

Projections show that 8.6 million Americans will be more than 80 years old by 2030 and could be responsible for nearly 25 percent of all fatal crashes, Harms said.

Bonnie Dobbs, director for the Medically At-Risk Driver Centre at the University of Alberta in Canada, testified in support of the bill. Many jurisdictions have policies that target high risk segments of the population, such as young and alcohol-impaired drivers, she said. Less attention has been paid to cognitively impaired drivers, she said, who are just as dangerous as drunk drivers.

“Nebraska has a medically impaired driving problem, not an older driver problem,” Dobbs said.

Ann Frohman, representing the Nebraska Medical Association, testified in support, saying that physicians work with families to enable cognitively impaired elderly patients to keep living in their homes.

“This bill is a good balance in determining when [cognitive impairment] crosses over from a public health concern to a public safety concern,” she said.

Jack Sample, a former license examiner, testified in opposition to the bill, calling it age discrimination. He said throughout his career he experienced many reckless drivers who were young and middle-aged.

“To set one age limit is judging individuals,” Sample said. “Many things can happen at any stage of life.”

Judy Zohner, representing the Vietnam Veterans of America, testified in opposition to the bill, saying that many young inexperienced drivers are involved in fatal crashes.

Bev Reicks, chief executive officer of the National Safety Council of Nebraska, also opposed the bill, saying that people can suffer diseases at any age. About 5 million Americans suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in 2012, she said, and about 4 percent of them were only 65 years old.

The state needs to consider the effects of cognitively impaired drivers, but whether the DMV should be conducting such tests is questionable, Reicks said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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