Giv­ing Up the Keys

Scorned by so­ci­ety, tar­geted by reg­u­la­tions, older mo­torists just want to keep on driv­ing

ZOOMER Magazine - - ISSUE - By Peter Mug­geridge

HUNCHED BE­HIND a mas­sive steer­ing wheel in an old-model car sits the stereo­typ­i­cal geri­atric driver, peer­ing over the dash­board through Coke-bot­tle glasses, swerv­ing from lane to lane, all the while obliv­i­ous to the may­hem he or she is caus­ing and ig­nor­ing the shout­ing driv­ers around them.

While hack­neyed por­tray­als like these are com­mon fod­der for movies or ads – they do a great dis­ser­vice to those who have been driv­ing the roads safely for more than six, some­times seven decades. Ul­tra-neg­a­tive depic­tions re­in­force the mis­taken no­tion that all se­nior cit­i­zens are ter­ri­ble driv­ers and bring about calls for blan­ket test­ing on all older driv­ers.

Over the past decade, some prov­inces, par­tic­u­larly On­tario and B.C., have im­posed rig­or­ous reg­u­la­tions on the li­cens­ing of el­derly driv­ers (see side­bar, next page), re­quir­ing them to un­dergo med­i­cal and road tests at 75 or 80. These can be an oner­ous, stress­ful and some­times costly im­po­si­tions on peo­ple who need the car to main­tain their in­de­pen­dence – vis­it­ing fam­ily or

Med­i­cal as­sess­ment

The Cana­dian Coun­cil of Mo­tor Trans­port Ad­min­is­tra­tors (CCMTA) has de­vel­oped med­i­cal stan­dards that health-care pro­fes­sion­als use to as­sess older driv­ers. Con­di­tions in­clude: slowed re­ac­tion time, lack of at­ten­tive­ness, poorer judg­ment, fail­ing vi­sion, slowed thought process, episodes of con­fu­sion, de­clin­ing mem­ory, loss of phys­i­cal strength, arthri­tis, se­vere res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems and li­a­bil­ity to sud­den changes in heart rhythm. friends or driv­ing south for the an­nual win­ter get­away – not to men­tion car­ry­ing out the nec­es­sary tasks of ev­ery­day life, shop­ping, pick­ing up the grand­kids, go­ing to doc­tor’s ap­point­ments, etc.

“When older peo­ple lose their li­cences, it’s a sen­tence to so­cial iso­la­tion,” says Wanda Mor­ris, CARP’s di­rec­tor of ad­vo­cacy. “And we have to be care­ful about pass­ing that sen­tence.” About 3.25 mil­lion Cana­di­ans over 65 have a driver’s li­cence – 200,000 of whom are 80 or older. Those who are in good health and have clean driv­ing sheets see manda­tory age-based test­ing as a form of dis­crim­i­na­tion. Clearly, it’s a touchy sub­ject. “As much as we want to say age is not a fac­tor in driv­ing, it is,” says Brenda Vrkl­jan, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy at McMaster Univer­sity and co-lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor with Cana­dian Driv­ing Re­search Ini­tia­tive for Ve­hic­u­lar Safety in the El­derly (Can­drive), a pro­gram ded­i­cated to im­prov­ing the safety of older driv­ers.

Vrkl­jan says that agere­lated med­i­cal con­di­tions do in­hibit our abil­ity to safely op­er­ate a ve­hi­cle. She feels it’s an un­for­tu­nate ne­ces­sity for pro­vin­cial min­istries of trans­porta­tion to tar­get at-risk groups, weed­ing out the bad driv­ers and ed­u­cat­ing those on health is­sues that can af­fect their driv­ing. The best way to do this is through pro­grams like those

in place in On­tario or B.C.

Be­sides age-based pro­gram­ming, an older driver can lose his or her li­cence based on the call of a health­care pro­fes­sional. Per­haps they’ve had heart prob­lems or an is­sue has arisen from their an­nual phys­i­cal. “We’re not al­ways ex­pect­ing that our driv­ing is go­ing to be ad­dressed as part of that con­ver­sa­tion,” says Vrkl­jan. At this point, the doc­tor­pa­tient re­la­tion­ship can get tense; it’s up to the physi­cian to re­port any health is­sues that may af­fect a driver’s abil­ity to the min­istry of trans­porta­tion. It’s no won­der some driv­ers are un­will­ing to see a health­care pro­fes­sional sim­ply be­cause they don’t want to be re­ported.

The de­bate over whether older driv­ers are more dan­ger­ous than any other age group hasn’t been com­pletely set­tled. Statis­tics show that crashes (per kilo­me­tres driven) among driv­ers over 80 are sim­i­lar to those of younger driv­ers. Ezra Hauer of the Univer­sity of Toronto’s civil engi­neer­ing depart­ment ar­gued in a Cana­dian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion Jour­nal that the so-called age-re­lated de­cline in driv­ing abil­ity is a “false claim.” Hauer claims older driv­ers are no riskier than any other age group but that they tend to be over­rep­re­sented in col­li­sion

fa­tal­i­ties be­cause peo­ple in this age group tend to be more frail, whereas a younger driver might walk away from a fender-ben­der, an older driver could be hos­pi­tal­ized or die.

More­over, anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sug­gests older driv­ers stay safe be­cause they self-reg­u­late: they only drive short dis­tances and avoid driv­ing on high­ways, at night or in poor weather con­di­tions.

In spite of this, no one is say­ing that 80-year-olds should have un­re­stricted ac­cess to the con­gested metropoli­tan streets, wind­ing ru­ral roads and in­tensely fast high­ways across Canada. Clearly, some need to have their keys taken away, such as the 20,000 early de­men­tia suf­fer­ers that Statis­tics Canada claims still have their li­cence. We’ve all seen what de­men­tia can do to peo­ple at home or in a nurs­ing home. The idea of shar­ing the road with these high-risk driv­ers is in­deed a scary thought.

Ul­ti­mately, gov­ern­ments should aim to get all bad driv­ers off the road, whether they are teenagers who text and drive, 20-some­things who drive reck­lessly, 40-year-olds who were never good driv­ers or 80-year-olds with early-stage Alzheimer’s.

“We need to treat peo­ple fairly,” says Vrkl­jan. “The stigma [against older driv­ers] ex­ists in greater so­ci­ety. In the end we want to keep peo­ple mo­bile. We don’t want to flag peo­ple who are safe.”

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