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February 20. 2014 11:07PM

Bill seeks immunity for medical providers who report those unfit to drive at any age

CONCORD — Mandatory driving tests for license renewals after 75 are no longer part of a bill proposed by a lawmaker moved by the story of motorcyclists hit and killed by an 87-year-old driver.

The plan to reinstate testing was opposed by groups representing the elderly, who said it was discriminatory. Members of the House Transportation Committee agreed Thursday, amending House Bill 263 to provide immunity to medical providers who report those unfit to drive at any age.

The bill’s sponsor, Tara Sad, D-Walpole, said she wants to encourage medical care providers to report those who should not be driving.

Sad told the committee some doctors do report patients, but many are leery because of the potential for a lawsuit.

“This might make it a little more attractive for doctors to do what is right for public safety,” Sad said. “It is very difficult to tell a parent or relative they are no longer able to drive and take their keys away.”

The Department of Safety has a hearings procedure to determine if someone should continue to hold a license, which is a privilege, not a right, in New Hampshire. Consequently, a doctor’s report would not mean the automatic suspension of a person’s license.

House Bill 263 does not target just elderly drivers, but anyone unfit to drive for medical or mental reasons, and has the support of the American Association of Retired Persons and the New Hampshire Medical Society.

Sad said she introduced the bill after the widow of a man killed in an accident in Westmoreland called her. Bette Champney’s husband was one of two motorcyclists killed during a memorial run for fallen soldier, Army Spc. Justin Rollins of Newport, who was killed in a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007.

In the Westmoreland crash, police said Robert Lockerby of Walpole crossed the double-yellow line on Route 12 on Aug. 25, 2012. Gary Champney, 59, of Alstead, and Aaron Robar, 41, of Newport, were among seven motorcyclists hit by the 87-year-old’s car.

They were pronounced dead at the scene. Lockerby died two days later.

Rep. Donald LeBrun, R-Nashua, was concerned the bill did not have broad support and was inspired by only one of Sad’s constituents.

Sad said when she introduced the bill, she was stopped on the street, emailed and called by people thanking her for her efforts to reinstate mandatory testing, which was repealed in 2011.

She said she spoke at an assisted living facility in Keene expecting to face strong opposition, but instead found unanimous support for her proposal.

“They recognized there are dangerous people driving,” Sad said, and they “welcomed the opportunity to get tested.”

No one spoke in opposition to the bill at the public hearing.

Several committee members expressed concerns that a person’s confidential medical records could be exposed under the bill. Rep. Charles McMahon, R-Windham, said the records should be protected from those who want to use government as a weapon.

Physician and Rep. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, said accessing medical records in an administrative hearing is concerning and suggested it be removed from the bill.

Sherman also said there ought to be a requirement for a medical evaluation before a report is filed.

Others were concerned about “the broad brush approach” of indemnifying any person who reports an unfit driver and suggesting either a more precise list or all “licensed medical providers.”

A sub-committee will work on the bill before the full committee votes next month.

grayno@unionleader.com


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