WE SHOULDN’T JUST TARGET ELDERLY DRIVERS FOR TESTING

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My father-in-law, who’s 78, drives cross-country twice a year.

His skills are such that I would feel perfectly comfortable making the trip with him. In fact, I could easily fall asleep while he was driving.

Should he be required to take a road test because of his age? He’ll kill me for saying this, but yes. And he would probably ace it.

We’ve all read the recent headlines. A mother and a 1-year-old baby were injured after a 93-year-old man crashed through a Wal-Mart in Danvers. Before we were finished reacting to that story, the very next day a 73-year-old Middleboro woman plowed into a crowd at a traveling Vietnam War memorial in Plymouth, sending seven people to the hospital.

Follow that up with the heart-wrenching story of 88-year-old woman from Canton who is being charged with vehicular homicide after running down 4-year-old Diya Patel, who was walking in a Stoughton crosswalk with her grandfather, and her brother and sister. The little girl was thrown 50 feet into the air. She was airlifted to a Boston hospital, but she didn’t make it.

Ilse Horn’s license was revoked on the spot and she was deemed “an immediate threat to public safety.” The details of little Diya’s death are enough to make you cry. The grandfather tried pushing his three grandchildren out of the path of the oncoming Toyota Camry Horn was driving. Diya didn’t get out of the way in time.

The hue and cry that followed ranged anywhere from testing drivers yearly when they turn 60 to not allowing anyone to drive after they turn 70.

Know what our illustrious state Legislature has decided to do? Nothing. You see, elderly folks vote in droves. A posturing Sen. Brian Joyce of Milton asked for support for his proposal that would require drivers to take a “periodic” road test when they turn 85. But reflexes, vision and concentration begin to diminish long before most people reach the age of 85. (My 78-year-old father-in-law being the exception, of course.)

And that’s the problem, isn’t it. We don’t want to make our aged loved ones have to go through the possible embarrassment of failing a road test. For many, including a nice group of older ladies at my church who routinely get together for lunch, it means independence. They don’t have to wait for somebody to take them to the grocery store or to the doctor’s office or to the mall. They can hop in their cars and visit friends who can’t drive. Go by any senior center around lunch time and see all the cars.

Most of my elderly friends realize their limitations. My good friend Peggy from Chelmsford doesn’t drive at night or if it’s raining or snowing. She’s not too proud to call someone if she needs a ride.

I don’t know what the age should be. I know that Sen. Joyce’s call for testing at 85 is a bit of pandering and posturing. By 85, I think it’s safe to say that you’re not a sharp as you were 20 or 30 years ago.

The good old folks will probably tell you that teenage drivers are more dangerous than they are. There’s validity in that argument. I think it was Lowell Police Chief Ken Lavallee who suggested, or said he supported, testing everyone every 10 years. Sound wisdom. That way, nobody feels as if they’re being targeted. Families wouldn’t have to hide the car keys from mom and dad.

And I could look my father-in-law in the eye.

Dennis Shaughnessey’s e-mail is dshaughnessey@lowellsun.com.