Rep. Keicher Bill Nixing Senior Road Test Clears Committee

From the Daily Herald: After months in limbo, a proposal ending road tests for Illinois seniors is gaining steam, thanks in part to pressure from older voters.

In an 8-1 decision last week, Illinois House Transportation: Vehicles and Safety Committee members approved legislation that would stop requiring people age 79 and up to take driving tests when renewing their licenses.

“What we are trying to address is the discriminatory practice of requiring behind-the-wheel tests for seniors to renew their license,” said sponsor and state Rep. Jeff Keicher, a Sycamore Republican.

The next test is a vote in the House on Bill 4431. If that succeeds, the Senate would follow.

Illinois is the only state that mandates a road exam for seniors.

Opposition to the policy kindled when the secretary of state’s office shifted to an appointments-only system for driver services last fall. At the time, many seniors complained that it was impossible to get a road exam appointment online or to find one close by.

“This law must be repealed so that we can join the other 49 states who have found this law to be extremely age-discriminatory,” Huntley senior Sandra Lemke told the Daily Herald recently.

“Older seniors only drive within a short radius of their homes (for) groceries, doctor visits, church, etc. Seniors are not party-hopping, texting while driving, driving in bad weather, and driving at night,” she said.

At a hearing Wednesday, some lawmakers said they opposed age discrimination but were concerned because people’s physical abilities change as they grow older.

Democratic Rep. Eva-Dina Delgado of Chicago voted “present” and Democratic Rep. Tracy Katz Muhl of Northbrook was a “no,” but said “I want to keep the conversation going.”

“I think it’s really important to remember that the goal here is road safety,” Katz Muhl said Thursday. “I think we can do both. I think we can find a way to make it easier for seniors, in particular, to do testing but also make sure that we keep everybody, the seniors included, safe on the roads.”

Katz Muhl cited a Highway Loss Data Institute/Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study on Illinois’ mandatory test. Compared to neighboring states, researchers found older drivers in Illinois were less risky and made fewer crash-related insurance claims.

Conversely, AARP Associate State Director Jeffrey Scott highlighted a 2023 report by the secretary of state’s office. “The findings of this study align with our position, emphasizing that older drivers statistically rank among the safest on the road today,” he said.

“Just because you are older, it doesn’t mean that you are an unsafe driver,” Scott said.

Debate among committee members showed there are several issues to resolve, said Keicher, an insurance agent.

One is the “discriminatory practice” of an age-based test for all seniors. The second is keeping unsafe drivers off the road, he explained.

Keicher anticipates further discussions with multiple stakeholders on establishing a process to determine when someone’s capacity to drive safely is diminished, regardless of age.

The “yes” votes on the bill included four Democrats and four Republicans from Chicago, the suburbs and downstate Illinois. The consensus reflects the power of seniors speaking up, AARP’s Scott said.

Keicher added whenever he’s in the Capitol, “I have lawmakers … asking me about the status of my bill because it’s one of the top things people are asking about in their districts.”

As of Saturday, Bill 4431 had 21 co-sponsors. Will it pass?

“I have a very positive feeling,” Keicher said. But experience tells him, “a lot of bills I thought would pass, didn’t.”