Ontario Safety League addresses current media issues regarding “Senior Drivers”

All drivers in Ontario are a concern of the Ontario Safety League and have been since 1913. It’s fair to say that if you took formal training from a driving instructor in the past 50 plus years the OSL played a part in that training. That of course would include your children and grandchildren. We have for many years been regarded as the gold ribbon standard when it comes to driver training.  Fatigue, distracted driving, car safety seats and, of course, impaired driving have been addressed by the OSL and have resulted better legislation and public education across Canada. Many in Government credit the OSL with maintaining the focus on road safety for almost a century. We are always looking to improve road safety and address current issues that are often characterized as “Seniors Based”.

We see these issues as “Driver Based”. Whether it involves mobility, prescription drug impairments, diminished cognitive abilities or lack of driving knowledge, none is specific to age. Taking age out of the equation, we can have more rational discussions regarding these complex problems. Safety on our roads is everyone’s responsibility regardless of age, whether you are a driver, pedestrian or a passenger.

Recent media reports in Ontario point to our aging population as a growing percentage of our driving population. Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, Bob Chiarelli, wants to make road safety a “top priority” due to the increase in cognitive impairment among the elderly.

Changes the Ministry is considering include: better training for family doctors on reporting cognitively impaired patients who drive; more rigorous on-road testing of senior drivers; and the introduction of graduated licensing for some seniors who, like teenage drivers, would not be allowed to drive at night or on 400-series highways.

This is nothing new from a road safety professional’s perspective.  Brian Patterson, President and CEO of the Ontario Safety League, agrees with the direction being proposed and has been dealing with these concerns of over a decade. He feels that seniors should not have to “fear” these changes or a potential “letter through the mailbox” when it comes time to be retested for their driver’s license.

Patterson told CARP that there are other means of making sure all drivers – not just elderly drivers – are safe drivers.

For drivers, senior or otherwise, Patterson recommends proactive “remedial” driver training as a viable option. “The province needs to take a serious look and divert not just senior drivers into a remedial program when necessary.”  With 120,000 crashes reported during the winter months alone and Highway Traffic Act offences filling our courts, many drivers should be diverted to remedial training regardless of age. Often traffic tickets or related collisions are what lead individuals to re-assess their driving. Post crash rates have dropped among commercial drivers by more than 70 percent when company wide retraining is undertaken.

In vehicle assessment of any driver is helpful. Often bad habits can be corrected and road safety rules can be reviewed. This is best preformed by a professional driver evaluator. We all tend to over rate our driving abilities and many untrained observers find fault with drivers who may be quite competent. We find that drivers tested in their own cars and often shown correct driving techniques are more confident safer drivers as a result. Bad news for those who should not continue driving is often better received from an independent professional than from a friend or family member.  That is true for doubting, but concerned, family members who more often are more confident when the report is favourable as well.

One of the main issues for seniors is loss of freedom if the right to drive is compromised. “I have had many seniors say to me they got anxious when getting the notice to be retested,” Patterson says. “Driving is a requirement for many to live a full and inclusive life in society. We don’t want people turning left into oncoming traffic, but there are sensible and sensitive measures that can be taken to reduce that risk considerably and to insure all drivers are safer drivers.”

Ontario is one of the last jurisdictions in North America that has not embraced “degraduated licences” for seniors. These licences can put limits on seniors with diminished night vision dark or reflexes that are unsafe at highway speeds. Greater use of Doctors in the screening process may not be the answer in this province.

“We don’t need to involve family physicians; senior drivers can be assessed for mobility, for example, by qualified physiotherapists or occupational health professionals,” says Patterson. “A visit to the family doctor can often create more anxiety and fear in a senior driver.” Let the doctors deal with those who have been identified as being at greater risk.

What can you do now when regulation is well off on the horizon . Take a Proactive Driving course or have your driving assessed by an OSL trained driving instructor. This step alone often deals with concerns raised by a spouse or family members. Always see your doctor if you believe it is a medical issue. You can also continue to work with CARP and the Ontario Safety League to insure that safe drivers of any age are on our roadways everyday.