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Bill allowing medical professionals to report unfit drivers heads to governor


CONCORD - Licensed medical professionals would have immunity from criminal or civil action if they report someone they believe is medically unfit to drive under a bill the Senate approved Thursday and sent to Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Under House Bill 263, anyone could report someone they believe is unfit to drive, but only licensed medical professionals would have immunity.

The report of safety officials would have to be based on an evaluation, not just an observation.

During the House debate, the bill's sponsor, Rep. 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."

Department of Safety officials believe the number of people unfit to drive is under-reported, Sen. Peggy Gilmour, D-Hollis, said.

Opponents have said the bill would violate patient-physician confidentiality and greatly expands those who would have immunity.

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 established a committee to study 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 Walpole driver.

Sad said Bette Champney's husband was one of two motorcyclists killed in Westmoreland during an Aug. 25, 2012, memorial run for fallen soldier Army Spc. Justin Rollins of Newport.

Police said Gary Champney, 59, of Alstead, and Aaron Robar, 41, of Newport, were among seven motorcyclists hit when Robert Lockerby's car crossed the double yellow line. Lockerby died two days after the accident.

Proponents of House Bill 263 say 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 governor believes that we must continue to find ways to improve the safety of our roads," said Hassan press secretary William Hinkle. "She appreciates the Legislature's focus on the issue and will closely review the bill as it reaches her desk."

grayno@unionleader.com

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