Seniors driving tests raising fears

Cowichan senior Ann Dessault admits she
Cowichan senior Ann Dessault admits she's extremely worried about the day she turns 80 and will have to go through the retest rigmarole. She's got six more years to go.
— image credit: Ashley Degraaf

The letter is slipped into your mailbox.

It asks you to book a driving assessment.

You’ve just celebrated your 80th birthday all the while that sealed request for a driving retest hangs on top of your head.

This is a pretty typical scenario for seniors entering their 80s. And for a lot of Cowichan’s older folks, it’s a scenario that’s got them in a tizzy.

“Everyone was livid,” Duncan’s Ann Dusseault said following a Duncan seniors drivers workshop May 24 attended by about 150 elders.

The 74-year-old is cruising for action on a number of senior driving retest qualms.

She has a whole list of concerns about Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles brainchild DriveABLE assessment.

She’s not a fan seniors are taking the road portion of the test in a foreign city in a foreign company car.

She hates they’re plunked in front of a computer for the first bit.

“You have no choice. You have to take it in Victoria and you have to take part of it on a computer,” she said.

BCAA director of road safety strategies David Dunne said these concerns aren’t new and aren’t falling on deaf ears.

There are solid reasons, however, to back what he says is a successful, functional assessment program.

“DriveABLE is a cognitive driving assessment for people with potential cognitive impairments. It’s a way of assessing those functions related to driving,” Dunne explained.

“The way the research was developed, the kinds of navigational errors people would make because they’re not familiar with their surroundings aren’t scored,” Dunne said on unfamiliar city cruises. “So there’s no biased. They’ve also validated research from people from rural and urban areas and there was no difference with the outcome.”

Results are always compared to others the same age.

“It’s much more of an age-sensitive tool, as opposed to an ICBC road test which is the same test, pass or fail, no matter what age you are.”

Company cars with dual brake systems are a must, Dunne said, as driving companies performing the road tests appreciate the ability to take control if unsafe driving is taking place.

He also ensured drivers wouldn’t be marked down for accidentally flipping on wipers instead of a turn indicator due to unfamiliarity of the new wheels.

The computer portion isn’t as terrifying as it sounds either, he added.

Seniors are guided through how it works and testing is done using a touch screen.

“There are absolutely no computer skills involved. If you can touch a dot on a piece of paper and react by lifting your hand off the table and touching a point on the wall, it’s the same thing. It’s a touch screen.”

The route senior drivers take, whether it’s a standard ICBC road test or DriveABLE is up to the OSMV.

Before seniors hit the pavement, however, they pay a visit to their docs.

The third-party MD assesses the individual and has an obligation to report back to the OSMV if he or she believes they might be unsafe behind the wheel.

“These are generally progressive cognitive impairments or a medical indication that there’s a cognitive concern,” Dunne explained.

DriveABLE is under the wing of BCAA.  There are testing headquarters in Nanaimo and Victoria but not one in the valley.

There is no charge for the test as long as the testing was requested by the OSMV.

If a driver flunks, however, the OSMV has the power to impose conditions on or revoke the individual’s driver’s license and can charge them $300 plus HST for a re-test.

Dusseault doesn’t like any bit of it.

She says beware of the “silver tsunami” building steam in Cowichan.

“This is just so bad. It’s so wrong,” she said. “And it’s not that I subject to seniors taking driving tests…. I’m all for it.”

Seniors are concerned about driving in busy cities when they’re used to pastoral cruises. And they’re really on edge about having to hop on a computer, Dusseault said.

She is encouraging seniors to contact local their local MLA.

“We’ve got to get the word out there,” she said.

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