North Fraser Chapter: Should B.C. drivers go through mandatory testing when they turn 80?

Seniors weigh in

This article was  published in the Province on March 29, 2015.  Click here to read the article.   

Another seniors group is voicing concern over the mandatory medical testing of senior citizens in B.C. when they reach 80 years of age.

The North Fraser chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) has made a lengthy submission to Justice Minister Suzanne Anton, asking the provincial government to scrap regulations that force 80-year-old drivers to submit to DriveABLE’s medical tests.

At age 80, and every two years after, drivers are required to visit a family doctor and successfully complete a driver medical examination report to show they are able to continue driving.

Bruce Bird, the chair of the North Fraser Chapter of CARP, claims that the testing required of people who reach 80 years of age is discrimination and that accidents involving seniors are quite low when compared to other driving groups, especially young drivers.

“There is no evidence to prove senior drivers are any worse drivers than any other group,” said Bird.

CARP has more than 300,000 members across Canada and Bird contends most seniors know when it is time to stop driving for health reasons.

In the submission, CARP argues the present system is flawed.

“It’s 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. We urge you to treat seniors with dignity and respect by eliminating special rules for senior drivers,” the submission to the minister states.

CARP also points out that many seniors are still vibrant and capable drivers at 80.

“The present rules about senior driver re-examination are unfair and discriminatory. 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,” the CARP submission says.

“This old image no longer applies. Most of today’s seniors travel extensively, participate actively in sports and other recreational programs, and contribute to their local communities in many ways. They are the largest group of volunteers, contributing millions of hours of unpaid work to sports organizations, charities, community and health organizations.”

CARP maintains the medical examination can be inconsistent, and is expensive to people on fixed incomes.

“The charge for the exam ranges from $75 to $400. This charge alone can be a hardship for low income seniors,” the document states.

“People who have no doctor must go to a clinic which knows nothing about their medical history. Doctors tend to be more skeptical about people they don’t know. We’ve heard stories of people who were traumatized by the experience and felt the doctor was not being objective.”

In an email to The Province, B.C.’s Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, Sam MacLeod, said: “I recently met with representatives from the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) to hear and understand their concerns.

“I recognize that seniors may particularly feel anxious about being assessed. That is why in 2012 we worked with the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations to enhance the DriveABLE program and include more supports for seniors.

“We are continuing to evaluate the DriveABLE referral process in our Driver Medical Fitness program and we have no plans to remove age-based medical assessments of drivers.

“The requirement for drivers to have their medical fitness assessed at age 80 is consistent with most other Canadian jurisdictions and many international jurisdictions.

“Very few drivers in B.C. are ever referred for a DriveABLE assessment. My office assessed 148,000 Driver Medical Examination Reports (DMERs) in 2014. Of those, only 2,400 drivers were referred to DriveABLE, for cognitive testing.”

Lorraine Logan, the president of the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of B.C., said her group has also been lobbying for seniors who drive and who have concerns about proposals to reduce the age for medical tests to 75.

Logan agreed that medical screening by a physician can be flawed. “There is no standardization of what the doctors are doing,” she said.

“I think they should be referred to a proper clinic. We are not saying, ‘Don’t test us,’ but there needs to be some process put in place. It is devastating for many who lose their licence.”

An email from the B.C. Ministry of Justice indicated there is no plan to change the age from 80 to 75.