Given the demographics here

When is it time to hang up the keys?

Police, seniors and others in Parksville Qualicum Beach debate the methods and merits of testing older drivers

Does age affect your ability to drive?

According to Transport Canada, drivers aged 65 and over represent 17 per cent of fatalities nationwide, yet senior drivers only account for 14 per cent of licensed drivers.

“The population is aging and it’s a big issue on the horizon,” said Central Vancouver Island Traffic Services Operations NCO Cpl. Mike Elston.

“It’s something that has to be dealt with.”

Elston said that given the demographics of Parksville Qualicum Beach, it should be no surprise that police see a greater number of drivers licenses revoked due to medical or physical infirmities here than other areas of the province.

“Senior drivers have high crash rates per kilometer driven,” said ICBC spokesperson Adam Grossman. “This means that while seniors may drive less, they’re more at risk when they do so.”

Superintendent of motor vehicles Sam MacLeod said drivers are required to undergo a medical exam when they turn 80 and must be re examined every two years afterwards.

MacLeod said the medical exam is administered by a physician or nurse practitioner “to determine an individual’s fitness to drive for the safety of both the driver and the public.”

However, at least one senior driver finds this exam “an irritant.”

Eighty-three-year-old Bruce Pepper of Parksville has been medically examined by his physician twice since turning 80.

“The exam costs $100 to $120,” said Pepper. “You’re forced to take the test and it isn’t even tax deductible as a medical expense.”

Pepper said the exam tests a patient’s vision, reflexes, mobility, heart and lungs, among other physical functions.

“I get a medical exam done every year so to get this special one on top of that is a pain in the neck,” said Pepper.

Additionally, RCMP member Elston said the medical exam, which is administered by a patient’s physician, is “conflictual” due to the intimate nature of patient-physician relationships.

“I have been told that the relationship between a patient and physician is very personal,” said Elston. “It is just as difficult for a physician, as it is for a family member, to recommend a person’s license be revoked.”

Elston said if a patient passes the test, he or she pays the fee and carries on for the next two years. However, if the physician feels the patient is unfit to drive, they must forward information to the superintendent of motor vehicles  and the patient is then at-risk to have his/her drivers license revoked or be re-examined by the DriveABLE program (an in-office or on-road test).

Elston said the in-office test is administered by a computer and many seniors feel “it’s out of their element.”

Tim Schewe, retired RCMP Constable of 25 years who now runs DriveSmartBC, said he has witnessed a “resistance” to the DriveABLE program.

“The loss of a drivers license equates to the loss of freedom,” said Schewe. “It’s easy to see where this resistance is coming from.”

Schewe said people often unfairly discriminate against older drivers.

“There is a higher risk (of an accident) with new drivers — who we never complain about — compared to older drivers who we always complain about,” said Schewe.

“Perhaps it is because people can see themselves as a new driver, but they can’t necessarily see themselves as an older  driver,” said Schewe. “It’s much easier to put yourself in someone’s shoes when you have already traveled that distance.”

Schewe said road culture has changed drastically since many senior drivers initially took to the wheel.

“When my mother learned to drive she paid $2 and got her license, when I learned to drive I took a 20 question test and got my license within a few weeks and when my kids went through the system they went to driving school and it took them two years,” he said.

“Road rules have changed, there are more traffic signs up and I would say driving is a lot more complicated today.”

However, Schewe admits not everybody is fit to drive and aging contributes to the degradation of vision, perception and reaction time amongst other factors.

In an effort to support senior drivers, Schewe runs a popular course through Vancouver Island University’s ElderCollege program called Safe Driving for Seniors. It will be offered again in the fall term. Additionally, Schewe runs a blog dedicated to road safety and traffic law information. For more information visit:

http://drivesmartbc.ca

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