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TOM: The column we wrote a few weeks back about the need to test older drivers for competence generated hundreds of letters. Surprisingly to us, most of them supported our position -- although some did not.

RAY: And a few of those were unprintable!

TOM: But we'll share some of the letters we CAN print over the next couple of weeks. Here are the first few:

Dear Tom and Ray:



My daughter was killed by an older driver. Thank you for taking a stand on this issue. Tyler, who was 5 at the time, was killed by an older driver going the wrong way on the freeway. The older driver, who was 79 and driving a large car, escaped with minor injuries. That experience motivated me to ask the 1998 Minnesota Legislature to enact stricter guidelines for the licensing of older drivers through more frequent testing. The bill passed the House transportation committee; however, the chair of that committee refused to pass it on to the floor for a vote. She cited the added expense of testing older drivers as the reason for "killing" the bill.

The real reason was just as you stated: Older drivers are a "third-rail issue," and any politician who touches it will be toast. I suggest that you are wasting your breath by appealing to politicians to address this issue and, instead, should be appealing to families. To maintain the right to drive in Minnesota, all that is needed is the ability to pass an eye exam. Until more stringent testing is required, we as "family" must responsibly police ourselves. So my daughter's death can have meaning, and to protect yourself and those you love, take an honest look at those close to you and help them to determine whether they are competent to safely operate a motor vehicle. Remember, the loss of one's right to drive is nothing compared with the senseless loss of human life. In addition, I have a Web site devoted to this issue. I believe it is compelling and might be of use to you when responding to all of the angry mail you are about to receive. It is sites.netscape.net/markhuffington
/homepage. Again, thank you for addressing the older-driver issue. -- Mark Huffington

RAY: You're probably right about starting with people rather than with politicians, Mark. What was the famous line attributed to a politician? "There go my people. I am their leader. I must follow them!"

Dear Tom and Ray:



Driving is a privilege, not a right, and society should expect a minimum level of performance -- and regularly test for it. My mother-in-law got her license in a drug store in the 1930s and has NEVER had a test. People say they have the right to drive. If we want to talk rights, I should have the right to go on the highway (or the sidewalk) without constant fear of being smashed by some 75-year-old widow who needs a booster seat to see the hood emblem on her Packard.

Part of that problem comes from children who don't have the capability of dealing with the hard issues of aging. And if they can't, then our driver-licensing system had better, because in my mind, if that parent causes a preventable accident, injury or fatality, then everyone in the loop is an accomplice. Nah, you didn't touch a sensitive chord in this household -- you stomped on it. Send me a petition. I'll sign! Best regards. -- Dennis

TOM: Talking to a parent about giving up the keys is incredibly difficult. That's why we advocate driving tests for older people, which will catch problems with the parents of those who can't or won't have that tough conversation. We'll have more letters about these issues in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
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