Requirements for licence renewal, reporting practices, appeals processes and options for restricted licences largely depend on where someone lives, according to the researchers Brenda Vrkljan of McMaster University, Anita Myers of the University of Waterloo, and Shawn Marshall of the University of Ottawa.
The study, funded by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation and Transport Canada, found little agreement between the provinces and territories on the best ways to identify and regulate older drivers who may present a risk to themselves and other road users.
Transport Canada data shows that in 2009 there were 3.25 million licensed drivers aged 65 and older, 14 per cent of the total driving population. The volume of senior drivers is expected to more than double in the next decade, as the first baby boom generation turn 65 this year.
Brenda Vrkljan, associate professor in the School of Rehabilitation Science and an occupational therapist saw the implications of an aging population first-hand when she worked at a hospital in Chatham, Ontario.
“Being able to drive was a key health issue for our patients, particularly our older patients who lived in rural areas where alternative transportation is nearly non-existent,” she said.
For many seniors, driving is crucial for maintaining mobility and freedom. Surveys show that most would rather have restricted licences (such as no night or highway driving) rather than lose their driving privileges altogether. Licensing authorities are under
pressure to expand restricted licences for older drivers, comparable to graduated licences for novice drivers.
But as drivers age, they are more likely to develop vision and other health problems that may compromise driving safety. In some provinces, but not all, drivers are subjected to medical review once they turn 70, 75 or 80. Mass screening, however, is costly and apart from in-person renewal, has shown minimal impact on fatalities.
“While older drivers are involved in proportionately fewer collisions than younger drivers, they are more likely to be seriously injured or die as a result,” said Myers, a professor of health studies and gerontology at Waterloo. “The rate of fatal collisions starts to rise at age 70 and continues to increase for drivers in their 80’s and 90’s.”
Experts agree that the focus should be on identifying potentially medically-at-risk drivers regardless of age and thoroughly assessing each person’s capabilities for continued safe driving. In most provinces, physicians are required to report patients they suspect are medically unfit to drive. This puts pressure on doctors who have increasing numbers of older patients with chronic conditions and lack valid tools to determine fitness-to-drive.
Access to driver assessment centres, wait times and costs to drivers themselves, as well as qualifications of those who conduct such assessments vary widely from province to province, according to the study. In Ontario, for example, Vrkljan noted that an occupational therapist must be involved in the evaluation of a medically at-risk driver when the Ministry of Transportation determines such an assessment is required, whereas other provinces have different stipulations.
To make this information widely available, the Canadian researchers partnered with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety to produce a comprehensive website on current practices and promising approaches regarding medically at-risk and older drivers at www.candrive.ca
“The public has a right to know what is being done in various parts of the country, while policy makers need these data to make informed decisions based on best practices,” said Kent Bassett-Spiers, CEO of the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation. “This research is the first step in unifying policies and setting strategic priorities.”
For more information please contact:
Associate Professor, Occupational Therapy
Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University
905-525-9140 ext. 22169