The End of the Road?
DRIVING: WHO DECIDES WHEN IT’S TIME TO HANG UP THE KEYS?
IN JUNE OF 2013, this magazine published Moses’s Zoomer Philosophy “The End of the Road: When Do We Stop Driving and Who Decides?” Keeping both justice and practicality in mind, Moses advocated for: Standardized, statistically reliable driving tests to be administered not just to aging drivers but all drivers at various intervals.
Readily available training and retraining programs for all adults, as codified by the Young Drivers of Canada program.
If necessary, a graduated licensing system for certain adult drivers (similar to the one now in use for new drivers) to be determined not by age but by test score, so that drivers who are only comfortable with driving in daylight hours or on city streets but not major highways, can continue to drive with those restrictions.
That we accept the inevitable when that time comes but with the caveat that the playing field be level.
These recommendations are just as logical and compelling today, but they are a long way from implementation. Periodic driving tests are not being administered at regular intervals, graduated licensing specific to older drivers is not to be found and while research is underway on a screening tool that identifies drivers who are unsafe, such a tool has not yet been adopted by a province or territory.
As we age, our health inevitably deteriorates, and driving becomes riskier. Changes in vision, hearing, flexibility, ease of movement, strength, reaction time, concentration and cognitive impairment can all impact our performance behind the wheel.
We compensate for our worsening reaction times with a lifetime of driving experience. In addition, many of us impose a kind of graduated licensing on ourselves; we stop driving at night, in bad weather, on highways, in high traffic areas or during rush hour.
But not everyone does. I know of an Alberta man who kept driving even though his cancer was so severe he could barely cross a room. It took a fender bender to make him give up his keys. Fortunately no one was hurt, but that is not always the case. I know of people who have been grievously injured or even killed by drivers not up to
the task. I was hit by an older driver who backed his station wagon into my bicycle, bending the frame and scaring the bejeebers out of me.
Part of the reason this is such an emotional issue is so much is at stake. As Moses wrote, a car is a symbol of daring, freedom and independence. We are loath to give it up. What’s more, without alternatives, losing our licence may mean we lose our actual freedom. This isn’t trivial; losing a licence can lead to loneliness, depression and social isolation. This problem is especially compounded if the person lives in a rural or remote area.
There are other options. In many cities around the world, people happily survive without ever owning a car. Those of us who have ventured outside of North America realize most of our transit systems fall short when compared to those in other parts of the world. A brief look at comparative rapid transit stations by population brings that point home.
While transit planners often develop robust plans, lack of funding can pose an insurmountable barrier to implementing them. Yet, when Toronto Mayor John Tory floated tolls to pay for desperately needed transit infrastructure, the province kiboshed it. Why is it standard practice to expect direct contributions from public transit users but unthinkable to ask drivers to pay directly for building and maintaining the roads they use for private travel?
Why do we protest against increased local taxes for transit when good transit and modern community amenities demonstrably improve quality of life – and property values?
And why do non-transit users complain about having to fund transit? Ardent drivers should be the keenest supporters of transit investment; well-funded transit means more people on subways and less traffic on the road.