Se­niors in com­mer­cial driv­ing on the rise

Some con­cerns be­ing raised

Cape Breton Post - - NEWS - BY KEVIN BIS­SETT

A re­searcher at the Univer­sity of New Brunswick says the num­ber of se­niors get­ting into the com­mer­cial driv­ing in­dus­try is ris­ing - and he’s warn­ing pol­icy mak­ers to be ready for the im­pli­ca­tions.

Eric Hilde­brand says se­niors cur­rently rep­re­sent about 14 per cent of New Brunswick’s gen­eral driv­ing pop­u­la­tion and within the next cou­ple of decades that’s go­ing to in­crease to a full one-quar­ter.

“That’s go­ing to be a huge shift and it’s some­thing that’s go­ing to need to be ac­com­mo­dated from a pol­icy per­spec­tive, from an en­gi­neer­ing per­spec­tive, from a ve­hi­cle de­sign per­spec­tive and so on,’’ Hilde­brand said.

“It’s some­thing that we need to un­der­stand be­cause it’s com­ing and it’s com­ing quite quickly.’’

Hilde­brand is gath­er­ing col­li­sion data from the last four years to ex­am­ine the per­for­mance of older driv­ers in school buses, trans­port trucks, and mo­tor­coaches.

“There has been a short­age of driv­ers, par­tic­u­larly trac­tor­trailer driv­ers, and with pen­sions in the kind of shape they’re in and so on, we are start­ing to see more se­niors ei­ther get into these fields or stay in them longer,’’ Hilde­brand said.

“No­body re­ally un­der­stands what’s re­quired and what thresh­olds we need to eval­u­ate peo­ple in terms of whether they are a safe driver or not.’’

Hilde­brand said he has done some pre­lim­i­nary anal­y­sis on se­niors driv­ing trac­tor trail­ers, and found that driv­ers over the age of 70 were in­volved in ac­ci­dents at a rate of 6.3 times more than mid­dle-aged driv­ers.

He said that’s a “huge num­ber’’ that should be of con­cern for gov­ern­ment and truck­ing com­pa­nies.

But Leonard LeBlanc, pres­i­dent of the New Brunswick Se­nior’s Fed­er­a­tion said he’s not wor­ried about se­niors driv­ing com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles.

“They have to have a med­i­cal ev­ery year or so and if they don’t pass a phys­i­cal they don’t get their li­cence. It’s as sim­ple as that,’’ LeBlanc said.

A Fe­bru­ary 2010 de­ci­sion by the New Brunswick Labour and Em­ploy­ment Board did away with the manda­tory re­tire­ment age of 65 for school bus driv­ers in the province, re­sult­ing in a wave of se­niors tak­ing up the job.

Brien Wat­son, pres­i­dent of CUPE Lo­cal 1253 - rep­re­sent­ing school bus driv­ers in New Brunswick - said the an­nual test­ing pro­to­col for driv­ers over the age of 60 is quite strin­gent.

“You have to have a med­i­cal from your doc­tor, your eye exam, a writ­ten test, in­spec­tion of your bus and road test,’’ he said.

Right now, the old­est school bus driver in the province is 73.

“The public doesn’t have to worry about driv­ers over 60 years old. They are out there now and they’re do­ing a good job,’’ Wat­son said.

Amanda Dean, vice-pres­i­dent At­lantic with the In­sur­ance Bureau of Canada, said some­one’s med­i­cal con­di­tion and driv­ing history are big­ger fac­tors than age for the in­sur­ance in­dus­try.

“A driver of any age, if you’re start­ing to have more col­li­sions or more and more in­frac­tions, maybe it’s time to have the dis­cus­sion about test­ing or to see if there’s a tem­po­rary im­pair­ment such as med­i­ca­tion for a cer­tain con­di­tion,’’ she said.

Dean said that in many cases, older driv­ers can have lower col­li­sion rates than any­one else. How­ever, she does point out that ac­cord­ing to Trans­port Canada, driv­ers 65 and over rep­re­sent 17 per cent of fa­tal­i­ties even though they only rep­re­sent 14 per cent of driv­ers.

Hilde­brand said most se­nior driv­ers can self-reg­u­late by avoid­ing busy roads, and not driv­ing in bad weather or at night. But he said se­niors who need to drive com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles can’t make the same choices.

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