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A privilege,not a right

Driving is part of our culture, but tolerating unsafe drivers shouldn't be

If you had to name just one activity that is quintessentially American, you'd be hard pressed to find a better choice than driving.

Partly because of our country's sheer size and wide-open spaces, and partly because our culture celebrates individual freedom, we love to drive. And we are fiercely protective of the privilege of getting behind the wheel and going ' whenever and wherever we want.

Given that very American love affair with the automobile, and a population that continues to live longer, healthier lives, it's easy to understand why many older people are reluctant to stop driving, even when their ability to do so safely has deteriorated.

It's also easy to understand why legislators have been reluctant to enact tough laws aimed at older drivers. Older Americans not only value their independence, they vote in large numbers; it's not easy to draw a clear line and say, this is the point at which people should no longer drive.

In 1999, a special committee of doctors and advocates for the elderly studied the effects of aging on drivers at the behest of the Legislature. The panel concluded that there are so many risk factors that vary from individual to individual that it would be impossible to write a general law applicable to every situation.

— The committee did recommend more frequent evaluation and more complex testing for older drivers, but out of 26 specific recommendations, the only one that made it into law was a requirement that medical providers report severe and uncontrollable impairments to the state.

A series of accidents involving elderly drivers this summer, here in the Rogue Valley and elsewhere, show that more needs to be done. Oregon law now requires drivers over age 50 to have their vision tested every eight years, and all drivers must renew their licenses at eight-year intervals, but no screening is required.

It's time to revisit the issue of older drivers, and to consider more rigorous testing. A behind-the-wheel test should be required in addition to a vision check. And lawmakers should consider shortening the interval between tests as drivers age.

No one, this newspaper included, wants to deprive a healthy, active, capable senior of the privilege of driving. But it's important to remember that driving is a privilege, not a right.

Few squawked when the Legislature toughened rules governing new teenage drivers, restricting the hours they could drive and requiring six months' licensed driving experience before a teen-ager could carry teen-age passengers. They were just kids, after all, and everyone knows that teenagers are a menace on the road. Right?

Not all teens, of course, probably not even most. And not all seniors, either.

But if it makes sense to restrict young drivers to increase everyone's safety, doesn't it make sense to do the same for older drivers?

A good bill

We agree with action by the Oregon House that would make children of illegal aliens eligible for in-state university tuition.

House Bill 3651 is a lesser version of a bill that would have allowed illegal residents to pay in-state university tuition.

Under the bill passed last week, students could get the lower rate if they had resided in Oregon for at least three years, graduated from a state high school and had citizenship or legal residence.

The bill covers two student groups that now are considered nonresidents when figuring tuition: citizens who are dependents of illegal aliens and students who have green cards, or resident alien status.

The representative who spearheaded the campaign to save part of the measure, Billy Dalto, R-Salem, said during the debate over the bill, One thing that sets this country apart is that we don't hold children responsible for the actions of their patents.

That's right. We don't. And that's why this bill is a good one. The proposal now goes to the Senate, where its chances are said to be good.