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March 20. 2014 9:28PM

Bill would immunize doctors who report on unfit drivers

CONCORD — Licensed medical professionals would have immunity from criminal or civil action if they report someone they believe is medically unfit to drive.

Under House Bill 263, the report would have to be based on an evaluation.

The House approved the bill on a 150-128 vote.

The bill would still allow anyone to report someone they believe is unfit to drive, but only licensed medical professionals would have immunity.

The bill’s sponsor, Tara Sad, D-Walpole, said earlier that she wants to encourage medical care providers to report those who should not be driving, instead of being leery of a potential 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.”

Opponents said the bill would violate patient-physician confidentiality.

“To encourage doctors to violate doctor patient confidentiality and become an agent of the state is chilling,” said Rep. Tim O’Flaherty, D-Manchester.

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.

The bill does not change the hearings procedure.

Originally, the bill would have establish a committee to study the reinstating mandatory driving tests for license renewals after 75, but the proposal was opposed by groups representing the elderly, who said it was discriminatory.

Sad introduced the bill after talking to the widow of a motorcyclist hit and killed by an 87-year-old driver.

Sad said the bill comes 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.

House Bill 263 supporters said it does not target elderly drivers, but anyone unfit to drive for medical or mental reasons. The bill is supported by the American Association of Retired Persons and the New Hampshire Medical Society.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

grayno@unionleader.com


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