How old is too old to drive a school bus?

When Joan Howard of Coquitlam, B.C., turned 65 last summer, she was told by her employer, Cardinal Transportation, that she could no longer drive her regular bus route.

Howard, who has found fill-in work in other school districts that don’t have such restrictions, says such policies are not fair.

“I did the Grouse Grind last fall,” she said, referring to a steep hiking trail north of Vancouver. “We’ve got young guys. I can outrun them any day.”

Dr. Shawn Marshall, an associate professor at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and co-principal investigator of a five-year study tracking 1,000 older drivers in seven Canadian cities, says research has shown that health conditions — not age — are more likely to affect someone’s driving abilities.

More experienced drivers are often better drivers, he said.

“They won’t try to rush that light, they won’t speed.”

But at least two human rights rulings have upheld age-based restrictions for school bus drivers.

In Prince Edward Island, where all school bus drivers are forced to retire at 65, the provincial human rights commission cited in a 1992 decision the testimony of two experts who said that people 65 and over are much more likely to have coronary heart disease and at greater risk of heart attacks; the ability of older people to solve problems decreases with age, as does their ability to pay attention to two tasks at the same time; and people 65 and over are twice as likely to have an accident as the best performing age group.

The Alberta Human Rights Commission drew a similar conclusion in 1999 when responding to complaints against the Clearview and Northern Gateway regional school districts.

“Older drivers become increasingly worse around age 55 and the degree of deterioration or increased crash risk escalates as one ages,” the decision read.

That still hasn’t stopped other school bus drivers from filing complaints alleging age discrimination. There is at least one human rights case pending in Alberta.

School bus drivers aren’t the only ones in the transportation industry faced with age restrictions.

All Greyhound bus drivers in Canada are required to retire at the age of 65.

Transport Canada does not have an age limit for pilots. Officials say pilots are assessed on a regular basis to determine their fitness to fly. As long as an individual meets those medical standards, he or she can continue to hold a licence.

However, the collective agreement between Air Canada and its pilots stipulates that pilots must retire at 60.

© The Gazette

Keywords: ageism, mandatory retirement