Are you ever too old to drive?

A recent article in the Globe and Mail adds fuel to a sensitive debate relating age to driver competency.

A few facts:

  • There are more than 3.5 million people over the age of 65 driving on Canadian roads.
  • Seniors are the most collision-prone drivers on a per-kilometer basis.
  • Seniors have some of the highest insurance rates of any age group.

So why are the statistics so poor for senior drivers?

Because old age is associated with health problems. According to public health data, two-thirds of Canadians over the age of 65 were taking multiple medications in 2010, and nine out of 10 suffered from a chronic condition.

Nellemarie Hyde is an occupational therapist who evaluates drivers with medical conditions. She says the most common illnesses in seniors are diabetes (which can impact vision and sensory function), Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and dementia.

Hyde wants to keep her clients safely on the roads. But if a medical condition changes their driving behaviour, then it’s her job to get those people off the road.

In BC, doctors are legally obligated to inform ICBC when they suspect a patient is not competent to drive. However many doctors have no training in evaluating the effects of a medical condition on driving performance.

ICBC also requires that drivers pass a medical exam shortly before their 80th birthday in order to keep their licence. In some cases, drivers are asked to take the DriveABLE assessment test, a screening tool used by the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles to determine if drivers with a suspected cognitive impairment are safe to drive. The assessment detects driving errors and measures memory, attention span, reaction time, spatial judgment, and decision-making.

Shawn Marshall, an Ottawa-based rehab medicine specialist, is near the end of a major study called CanDrive, which follows 1,000 drivers over the age of 65. His goal is to create a screening tool that is more reliable and accurate than what is already out there.

“You don’t want to identify people falsely,” says Marshall. “The average 65-year-old is a healthy person. Driving is important. To maintain your independence in many places throughout Canada, you need to be able to drive.”

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James Richards
James Richards is a born and raised Vancouverite who studied History, Political Science and Law at University of British Columbia. His over 20 years of legal practice and a busy and active family gives him his purpose, focus and some good writing material. When not in work–mode, he enjoys any excuse to be out and about our amazing city.