How old is too old to drive?

by John McKiggan

They say that you are only as old as you think you are. But the older I get the more I realize my body hasn’t heard that saying.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have a while to go before I am officially considered to be a “senior citizen”. But I do understand that as we get older we begin to experience health concerns including loss of hearing and eyesight, our reflexes begin to deteriorate, and we tend to require a wide array of medications which can have any number of effects on our mental capacity.

This combination of issues can be particularly concerning when a senior gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. But how do we get older drivers to give up their prized independence and hand over the keys?

I posed this same question a few years ago Elderly Drivers: How old is too old?

The numbers speak for themselves

In the USA, seniors make up 9 percent of the general population yet they account for 13 percent of traffic fatalities.

In Canada there are over 3.25 million people over the age of 65 with a driver’s licence. Statistics Canada states that people 70 or older have a higher accident rate than any other age group except for young male drivers. Also, as a result of their fragile state, seniors are more likely to be killed when involved in a car accident.

Delicate issue

A recent CBC article addressed the problem of getting seniors to give up their driving privileges. In Canada, doctors and other medical professionals may recommend that a patient’s license be revoked.

Dr. Jo-Anne Clarke agrees that it is a difficult conversation to have with a patient. She recommends focussing the conversation around abilities instead of age. She says the discussion should not be about how old the patient is, but about the limitations they might have developed.

Provinces disagree

The laws across Canada are not uniform. The provinces each have their own way for dealing with senior drivers, some more stringent than others. At the age of 80, in B.C. and Ontario, drivers are required to meet certain obligations if they wish to retain their licenses.

Senior drivers in B.C. submit to a “Driver Medical Examination Report” every two years.

Drivers in Ontario:

(i) take an eye-test;
(ii) they engage in a 90-minute education session about traffic laws, effects of aging on driving, and they receive tips and advice for older drivers; and,
(iii) they take a multiple-choice test.

This is not the case in Nova Scotia. Instead, since 2001, seniors in Nova Scotia are incentivised to sign up for a non-mandatory safe driving course. The government of Nova Scotia subsidizes the course up to $40, with the drivers paying for the remainder.

Potential liability for Doctors

The Canadian Medical Protection Association notes that the issue is one that raises potential legal concerns for doctors treating senior drivers:

“Physicians have been involved in several actions brought on behalf of an injured party in a motor vehicle accident alleged to have been caused in part by the medical disability of another person who should not have been allowed to continue driving. Physicians have been found liable for failing to report, notably in those provinces and territories with mandatory requirements.”

What do you think?

Is Nova Scotia doing enough? Should we wait for doctors to make recommendations to transport Canada before senior’s licenses are taken away? Or should there be a mandatory assessment once drivers reach a certain age?

Let me know by leaving a comment.

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