Video: Elderly drivers

By Mike Taibbi Correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/17/2004 10:23:47 PM ET 2004-11-18T03:23:47

In Philadelphia, Wednesday, a 79-year-old driver lost control of his car and slammed into a store, injuring a 20-year-old mother who worked there. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles on Wednesday, 87-year-old Geroge Weller said he was too ill to be arraigned on vehicular manslaughter charges in the deaths of the 10 people he ran down in a Santa Monica farmers market in July 2003.

But not even tragedy on a massive scale has ignited a move to change current laws — in California or any other state — to require age-based road testing for elderly drivers.

Instead, in a handful of states now, seniors like 79-year-old Jim Hart are only required to re-qualify as drivers, including a road test, if a doctor or relative reports a dangerous condition to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

"A neurologist I was seeing sent over a thing that said I had dementia," says Hart.

When a second medical opinion contradicted that finding, he started the driving lessons now required by state law and expects to get his license back soon.

Critics say senior drivers are involved in more accidents-per-miles-driven than any group besides very young drivers, but politicians won't take on senior citizens groups.

Former California State Senator Tom Hayden tried and failed to pass an age-based road-testing bill.

"At some point, it becomes absurd. Of course there should be a road test," says Hayden.

But senior citizen lobbyists call any required test, at any age, discriminatory and frightening.

"Imagine if you had to go take a test that would determine whether or not you could still drive!" says Gary Passmore, a lobbyist with the Congress of California Seniors.

Jim Hart says he would accept age-based testing, because while he knows he has health issues, driving means living.

"It's terrible being in Los Angeles without a driver's license," says Hart. "I don't know how people can survive."

But Hart says it shouldn't simply be the calendar that takes his keys away.

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