May 22, 2024

Eye On Illinois: Government efficiency requires balancing competing interests

Government is not all powerful.

That’s not meant to counter the argument taxing bodies are too strong. Even those who hold that belief must acknowledge there could be far more overreach depending on circumstance.

Consider House Bill 4431, a proposal to eliminate the mandatory road test for drivers 75 and older. A reader called me about this topic in October 2022, noting Illinois is the only state with such a rule. That helped get the question to the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors for interviews with Secretary of State candidates: then-state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias.

Both said they’d be willing to study the issue, but neither expressed strong feelings. After taking over for long-term officeholder Jesse White, Giannoulias has sought to modernize driver services in many ways, setting the stage for advocates to push this reform closer to reality.

State Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, introduced HB 4431, which now has dozens of sponsors. State Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles, stands ready to support in his chamber. An AARP release backing the bill quoted DeWitte calling out an “unfounded assumption about older drivers” and Keicher asserting “There is simply no evidence to show” older drivers need an extra road test compared to the rest of the population.

The AARP also cited a 2022 Illinois Department of Transportation report it said “showed virtually no change in crash rates for drivers 75 and older, with a crash rate of 24.39 per 1,000 drivers, which is lower than every age range of drivers between 16 and 69.”

The Highway Loss Data Institute, under the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, ran numbers back in 2016 (tinyurl.com/OldDriverStudy) because even then Illinois was an outlier. Framing the issue through insurance claims, that report noted “The decline in the bodily injury liability exposure ratio for older drivers could be a result of excluding older drivers with a higher crash risk from the driving population,” but also observed “older drivers in a metropolitan area can rely more on public transportation for daily life than older drivers in non-urban areas,” suggesting many older drivers are therefore more motivated to take and pass road tests.

If road safety were the only priority, we’d all get road tests every year and the failure rates would increase. But government is not all powerful, so we use decades of data on automobile use, police reports, traffic studies and more to come up with a reasonable system intended to yield a result where the vast majority of licensed drivers are generally safe enough to keep traffic moving.

Efficiency requires balancing competing interests. Lawmaker support of HB 4431 represents shifting priorities. Regardless of outcome, the discussion is healthy – and proof state power has its limits.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on X @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.