Medical exam for 80 year old drivers is discriminatory, advocacy group says

Click here to read full article published by the Vancouver Sun on March 18, 2015.

Restrictive rules for drivers age 80 and older should be scrapped because they are discriminatory, a seniors advocacy group says.

When drivers turn 80 in B.C., they’re required to take a medical exam to prove they are fit to drive, said Bruce Bird, chairman of the North Fraser Chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP).

Bird, 81, said he now faces a medical exam every two years. Since medical exams for younger drivers aren’t mandatory, he feels he’s being discriminated against because of his age.

“It’s ageism because you’re treating older people differently than younger people,” he said.

Bird, who worked in insurance for more than 20 years, said the provincial government has based its rules for older drivers on faulty statistics.

“Their statistics are very selective. All they cited was senior fatalities in driver accidents — not who was at fault,” he said.

“They didn’t also recognize that of course seniors are more likely to die because they are more frail. They don’t recover so easily.”

Bird and CARP have submitted a proposal to Justice Minister Suzanne Anton asking the provincial government to remove these age-related restrictions.

“The present rules about senior driver re-examination are unfair and discriminatory,” Bird said in the submission.

“They are based on an outmoded concept of seniors as old and feeble, content to lounge in their rocking chairs until infirmity puts them in a wheelchair or sends them to an early grave. This old image no longer applies. B.C. should make every effort to help seniors retain their drivers licences for as long as they can safely drive.”

According to ICBC, there were 93,000 drivers 80 years of age or older in this province in 2013.

RoadSafetyBC said that 148,000 drivers of all ages (a breakdown of those over age 80 was not available) were required to take a medical fitness exam in 2014. Of those, 2,408 had to take a DriveABLE test to measure their cognitive ability.

Sam MacLeod, superintendent of motor vehicles, said his agency has no plans to remove age-based medical assessment of drivers.

He said B.C.’s rules are consistent with other provinces, and that the BC Human Rights Tribunal has looked at reviewing such restrictions and found them “to be consistent with our road safety mandate.

“I realize that taking away someone’s drivers licence is a significant lifestyle change, so it is not something we do lightly,” he said by email.

“I make it a priority to balance fairness with my responsibility to assess the medical fitness of drivers.”

The Justice Ministry said it doesn’t have data on the number of drivers who had their licences cancelled followed a medical exam or DriveABLE assessment in 2014.

Seniors who do lose their driver’s licence face a loss of independence and increasing likelihood of isolation and loneliness, said Bird.

He pointed out that seniors have to pay for the medical exam themselves, and that the cost can vary from $75 to $400, which becomes another financial burden for seniors surviving on fixed incomes.

At the other end of the age scale, a 16-year-old who applies for a learner’s driver’s licence also faces restrictions. But Bird pointed out that’s not because of the person’s age: it’s because they’re new drivers.

“Those restrictions apply to any new driver — not just to young people,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, when you’re a new driver you still have those restrictions.”

He pointed to his son who is 45. He just got his driver’s licence and now has to display a green N sign indicating that he’s a Novice driver.

“Senior drivers as a group should be treated the same as other age groups of drivers,” Bird said in the submission to Anton.

“All bad drivers should be treated harshly. But all good drivers should be treated kindly, regardless of age.

“It is time for British Columbia to abolish special rules for senior drivers and treat all age groups equally. Ageism is an outmoded concept that has no place in B.C.”

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