New driver’s test for older drivers. Is it fair? Yes.

On April 21 in Ontario, new changes to the over- 80 licence testing take effect. The new evaluation has a vision assessment, in- class group education, review of the driver’s record and two short exercises, determining if further assessment is required. At 90 minutes, it’s half the time of the old one, and the cognitive tests, with no computer component, are available in advance. No surprises. This new procedure is a far better measure than the previous one.

The two short exercises are the highlight of the new test. Dr. Louisa Gembora, an independent clinical psychologist specializing in rehabilitation is also a driving instructor. “The clock drawing exercise seems simplistic, but it’s…reliable and viable – we’ve used it for many years, providing the evidence to implement it.”

It tests auditory language skills – following instructions. It tests memory, as the individual must exercise visual spatial function. Motor ability is needed for drawing and linguistic skills to draw the numbers. It highlights executive functioning, the need to plan and organize the drawing. Gembora notes it supersedes any language barriers.

“It’s rank discrimination,”

Kitchener’s Tom Trent, 84, wrote to me after the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) announced changes to reassess drivers when they hit 80. Is the government coming after Tom and his friends? Is there a mass movement to strip older driver of their freedom and independence?

There is if you think people whose vision is so impaired they shouldn’t be driving. There is if you believe dementia or failing cognitive skills affect how one drives. There is if you base that movement on cold hard facts according to Statistics Canada: drivers over 70, when you adjust for miles driven, are second in crashes only to those the wild teenage boys we hear so much about. And it’s the seniors who are more likely to die. Choosing to evaluate drivers as they age is evidence based.

My mother passed a crash scene 40 years ago. An elderly driver had hopped a curb and pinned a boy walking by to a fence. The lad lost his leg. The old man was in shock, declaring he’d never seen him, never seen the curb. It was the route I took home from school; my mother kept remembering the boy’s backpack.

Ontario currently requires doctors to report patients they believe impaired by medical conditions or prescriptions that may caused diminished ability behind the wheel. Alberta requires medical exams beginning at aged 65, and anyone can report a driver they believe dangerous. B.C. starts medical exams at 80; Saskatchewan has a gradual delicencing for compromised drivers, based on times driven, distance and time of day.

The AAA in the U.S. says ”seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of 7 to 10 years.” Family interventions are fraught – and fought – with anger. Nobody driving on our roads today would argue we don’t need a better system in place.

The new guidelines come from years of work with CANDRIVE, an interdisciplinary group of researchers seeking ways to keep the elderly driving safely. Brenda Vrkljan, Assistant Professor in the school of Rehab Sciences at McMaster University and a member of the CANDRIVE team, says the ministry is embracing the work the organization does. “We put our best self forward in a test, but cognitive tests like the ones now included will reveal gaps that can be missed. We are constantly looking for evidence based, fair testing that protects individual as well as public safety.” The test determines how your brain is actually working, not how you appear.

There is predictable anger among seniors who mistake a driver’s licence with a membership for life card, or who understandably believe clean driving records speak on their behalf. But studies like CANDRIVE hope to soon have in doctor’s hands a comprehensive, definitive way to take only those who are truly compromised off the road – before a fatal lapse.

I called Tom back, explained the changes, and said the test was a better, fairer judge of cognitive ability, rather than a case of blanket discrimination based on age. He was interested in the explanation.

Discrimination based on age? Yes. But it’s predicated on evidence.

This entry was posted in Drive She Said. Bookmark the permalink.

5 responses to New driver’s test for older drivers. Is it fair? Yes.

  1. Sandy says:

    I think this is long overdue. There have been too many incidents involving seniors that were past the point of being safe drivers. Can’t imagine how tough it is for families to deal with this, but with the new testing, some of that drama may be taken out of their hands.

    Glad to see a Drive column back!

    • Pat says:

      Is that an analog or digital clock you have to draw?
      A lot of older folks take themselves out of driving. But, this testing will help “weed out” people with someziemers or other impairment.

  2. Ydnew says:

    I’ll be 70 this year and I don’t have a problem with the new test, welcome it in fact. My 94 year old aunt routinely aced the old test despite the fact that she only passed the cognitive tests used by her doctor by one point. She really didn’t want to give up driving because she thought she was fine, but she has the attention span of a gnat – if she caught sight of something that interested, she’d turn in – no signals, regardless of the lane she was in. My cousin managed to get my aunt to stop driving last winter and sold the car to her grandson (who has since brought it back to Nan’s garage becauSe he didn’t have room in his own. Sigh.)
    I often see seniors get out of cars who are so slow moving that you wonder whether they would be able to react quickly in an emergency.
    I can appreciate that it is a tricky subject. Taking a person’s license away can take away independence and make a senior housebound. Not everyone qualifies for Wheeltrans or similar services and taxis are expensive.
    I’ve only got a few more years to go until I will be tested, right now I’m mobile and can walk the fifteen minutes to a bus stop if needed – but that won’t only be the case

    • Kerry says:

      We had an elderly woman drive through the glass wall of winners , and wound up 3 car lengths inside the store . Mass destruction . Fortunately no one was hurt . We also had 2 people drive through the local gym as well . Only one was elderly . Rumour has it , the first woman was trying to hit her husbands lover who was working at the front desk .

  3. Bernie says:

    Hello blogger, i found this post on 25 spot in google’s search results.
    I’m sure that your low rankings are caused by hi bounce rate.
    This is very important ranking factor. One of the biggest reason for high bounce rate is
    due to visitors hitting the back button. The higher your bounce rate the further
    down the search results your posts and pages will end up, so having reasonably low bounce rate is important for improving your rankings naturally.
    There is very useful wordpress plugin which can help
    you. Just search in google for:
    Seyiny’s Bounce Plugin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>