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Families of crash victims say driving test for elderly needed

New Hampshire Sunday News

September 02. 2012 1:42AM

The families of two motorcyclists killed in a Westmoreland crash last weekend want the state to bring back mandatory road testing of elderly drivers, authorities said.

'They both told me that is their concern: They want to see and are going to make strides to make that happen again,' state police Lt. Jerome Maslin said Friday.

But Rep. Bob Williams, D-Concord, the sponsor of the law that in July 2011 eliminated regular road tests for drivers 75 and older, said the change in the law wasn't to blame for an 86-year-old driver who hit seven motorcyclists, killing two and injuring five.

'People of all ages have caused similar crashes and similar deaths, but they're not talking about testing those people,' Williams said.

When legislators debated the bill in spring 2011, only New Hampshire and Illinois required both a vision test and a road test for drivers 75 and older renewing their license.

National figures showed drivers 75 and older were involved in more fatal motor vehicle crashes than any other age group in 2010, even more than teenage drivers. But those 75 and older drivers, along with those ages 65 to 74, shared the lowest rate for being involved in all types of traffic accidents, according to the National Safety Council.

In New Hampshire, drivers 86 and older were the age group with the lowest percentage of non-fatal crashes in 2011, according to figures from the state Department of Safety. Percentages weren't available for fatal crashes.

Between 2007 and 2011, New Hampshire saw a total of 22 fatal crashes involving drivers 86 or older.

In 2007, three of the drivers were found to be at fault. That number dropped to one at fault in 2008 and two in 2009, then spiked to five drivers at fault in 2010. In 2011, none of the three drivers, 86 or older, involved in fatal crashes were determined to be at fault, according to the Department of Safety.

New Hampshire had 12,799 licensed drivers 86 or older last year. Among the 2,682 age 86, 85 drivers, or 3.17 percent, were involved in non-fatal crashes last year.

State figures showed drivers 75 and older had a lower rate of failing their road tests than all New Hampshire drivers combined for each of the years between 2008 and 2010, the last full year of mandatory testing for older drivers. In 2010, 8.14 percent of drivers at least 75 years old failed the tests compared with 11.47 percent for all drivers tested. Those older drivers also saw their failure rates drop from 9.39 percent in 2008 to 9.07 percent in 2009 to 8.14 percent in 2010.

Of all licensed New Hampshire drivers 86 or older in 2011, 2.74 percent were involved in non-fatal crashes, down from 2.87 percent in 2010. The figures represent a drop from 2009, when 4.17 percent of all licensed drivers 86 or older in New Hampshire were involved in a non-fatal accident, according to state figures.

In the Westmoreland crash Aug. 25, police said Robert Lockerby of Walpole crossed the double-yellow line on Route 12, killing Gary Champney, 59, of Alstead, and Aaron Robar, 41, of Newport, during a memorial motorcycle run for a fallen soldier, Army Spc. Justin Rollins of Newport, who was killed in a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007.

Lockerby died in the hospital two days later.

Police said Lockerby couldn't recall for police what caused him to cross the center line. And Lockerby's wife, Sally, a passenger injured in the crash, also provided little insight.

'She wasn't able to shed any light on the investigation,' Maslin said Friday. 'She wasn't paying attention.'

Mrs. Lockerby was in stable condition Saturday at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene.

According to the Department of Safety, Mr. Lockerby didn't have any black marks on his driving record for the most recent seven years that could be reviewed.

'At the time of his death, he had a valid license and his driver record is clean: no accidents and no violations,' said James Van Dongen, public information officer for the state Department of Safety.

Van Dongen said records showed Mr. Lockerby was 86 years old; police had listed his age as 87.

Lockerby's current license was issued on March 10, 2009, when he was 82.

'He probably did have to have a road test at that time, but there's no record that's saying affirmatively that did happen,' Van Dongen said.

Former Rep. Jennifer Brown, D-Dover, had served as vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

'I don't think it's a bad thing to test them because frankly if they drive, they should be able to pass the test, but I don't have any strong feelings,' she said.

Brown had to confront her 91-year-old mother's driving ability when she got in a fender-bender two years ago in New York State and was required to take a road test. So Brown enrolled her mother in a two-hour, safe-driving class and upgraded her rear-view mirror. It worked.

'She was very happy to tell everybody, 'Hey, I took my driver's test and passed,'' Brown said.

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