Tip line to identify unsafe elderly drivers draws criticism

In what a seniors advocate calls unfair targeting of older people, Sudbury police are urging residents to anonymously report elderly motorists they feel are no longer fit to drive.

“If [someone] is really erratic, sure, rat people out. The thing is, that’s not what’s happening here. This is targeting older people,” Susan Eng, vice president for advocacy at the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) said. “It’s a huge infringement on their rights.”

This article was published by Global Toronto on February 21st, 2013.  To see this article and other related articles on the Global Toronto website, please click here

The North East Dementia Network Coalition Safe Driving Task Force, as it is called, was formed last month, with tips funnelled through Crime Stoppers. A plainclothes officer is then sent to the motorist’s home to discuss the call.

“So, say Jane Doe’s name is given. [We] will go to Jane Doe’s house, knock on the door and speak to her and follow up. Firstly, to see if the tip is valid, if there are some identified problems with driving and go from there,” said Sudbury Constable Meghan O’Malley.

“There are many people who call us and say, ‘I have some concerns about my mom or my dad or family, friend, neighbour,’ but they don’t know who to go to. They don’t want to alienate that person, but they want to make sure that the person gets additional driving help or goes to the appropriate person to get whatever the problem is, fixed.”

The officer will ask questions about how the person feels driving, and whether they have issues or problems with their vision or hearing, she said, and this could lead to a suggestion to follow up with a doctor, or require the person to take a driving test.

But Ms. Eng said authorities can use “professional” means such as road tests and the like to test motorists’ ability to drive, rather than depending on, say, family members who use arbitrary measures to second-guess their faculties.

“Everybody should be safe on the road, [but] how do we make sure that’s the case? Our position has always been that there has to be a legitimate way of testing everybody’s skill to be able to drive on the road. What they’re doing here is presuming that everyone who looks a certain age is, by definition, unable to drive,” Ms. Eng said.

According to Patricia Douglas, chair of the Sudbury chapter of CARP, three people have been investigated since the task force’s creation a month ago. Two agreed it was time to give up driving, while the third has agreed to a provincial driving test.

Ms. Eng said having a police officer come to your door to criticize your driving would be traumatic, and the subject is best discussed within the family.

“It’s a sad statement of the state of our families and social situations at this point, that we would invite Crime Stoppers to interfere with family affairs like this,” Ms. Eng said.

“When people avoid their own responsibilities with a family member, maybe they should take the responsibility and say, ‘well, I ratted you out,’ instead of hiding behind a public system for which this was never appropriate.”

According to Transport Canada, there are roughly 2.8 million drivers in Canada over the age of 65. Nearly 15% of drivers killed in a traffic accident are seniors, while those under the age of 24 account for roughly 23%.