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Published: Tuesday, 4/30/2013

Taking Grandpa’s keys

A new Michigan law allows doctors to alert the Secretary of State’s office if they think patients’ medical conditions make them unsafe behind the wheel. The patient then has to take a driver’s test.

The law probably is a net plus for public safety. But it raises serious questions about medical privacy and due process.

Elderly drivers with medical conditions are a growing problem in every state. But bad drivers — who may have no condition but distraction and the toys of distraction, such as cell phones — are problems in just about every state.

The Michigan law is designed partly to take some of the pressure off families. Children may find it hard to tell a parent who should stop driving, for his or her own safety as well as others’, to hand in the keys. The idea is that such a recommendation is easier to hear from a supposed authority figure.

The law covers vision loss, dementia, and other age-related health problems that could threaten the driving ability of elderly people. It shields doctors from liability. And doctors have no further obligation once they notify the Secretary of State’s office.

Elderly drivers do not automatically lose their licenses, but the burden is on them to prove they are worthy of continuing to drive. Some older citizens complain that they never have gotten even a parking ticket, yet now feel as if they are treated as criminals.

Some states test everyone over the age of 70 every five years for driving ability and cognitive capacity. But maybe the best and fairest law would be to retest all citizens every five years for their knowledge of traffic laws and driving ability.

Otherwise, we are profiling the elderly, which is unfair and unconstitutional. Moreover, they aren’t the only bad drivers out there.

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