LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Supporters and opponents of a bill that would require drivers older than 80 to pass a cognitive test to renew their licenses spoke out Tuesday about the measure, which according to its sponsor would be the first to call for such a test.
Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms told lawmakers that Nebraska would be the first state to require a cognitive test if his bill passed, but not the first to require extra requirements for older motorists to renew their driver's licenses.
"It's about medically impaired drivers. We want to try to identify them," he said.
But motorists like 76-year-old Jack Sample argue that the bill discriminates against seniors.
"We as family members take the responsibility seriously enough that we have to have the courage to tell (older relatives) when they're done driving and not expect you, who certainly have enough on your table as lawmakers, to reach into the family and tell them you can't drive anymore," said Sample, who lives in Grand Island.
He and others testified before the Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.
If passed, the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles says it would need $57,000 in 2014 to hire more driver's license examiners.
Harms said he introduced the bill after hearing of the U.S. Census Bureau's predictions that more older drivers will be on roads over the next 20 years. He said constituents also shared their concerns about older family members who drive.
He pointed out that Washington, D.C., requires drivers older than 70 to bring a note from a doctor that says they're physically and mentally capable of driving. Illinois requires drivers over 75 to take a driving test. And several other states require older motorists to renew their license in person and to take a vision test.
Cognitive testing is necessary to ensure drivers don't have any impairments, such as dementia, that effect their reasoning, judgment or memory, Harms said. Drivers who fail a cognitive test could take a written driving test, he said.
Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft said she's not so sure the DMV is the right place to tell a senior he or she needs to visit the doctor. She said a decision over a person's mental capabilities behind the wheel is "best between physician and patient."