Driving a privilege, not a right

Hamilton Spectator 2014 . 11 . 04 

As we age, and hopefully mature, we commonly undergo health checkups. These exams remind everyone of such physical traits as the strength of arms or the flexibility of legs. 

Many times we know exactly what to expect before the trip to the doctor. Little pains crop up when walking up steps or typing on a keyboard. We sometimes disregard those aches, thinking we can work around these physical signs of aging. 

But when it comes to driving a vehicle, aging Zoomers should do more than just rely on instinct when they might need a checkup. 

The presence of senior drivers is expected to increase 70 per cent over the next 20 years, according to the Canadian Community Health Survey — Healthy Aging (CCHS). Only teenagers have higher crash rates than drivers 65 and older, according to current statistics available. 

There are physical and mental challenges facing the aging driver. For example, forgetting where your car is located, getting lost on familiar routes and disorientation may be signs of dementia. If you cannot see pavement markings, read road signs or are unable to maintain lane position, there could be a problem with high- or low-contrast visual acuity. 

Advocacy groups such as CARP, CAA and some driving schools offer refresher courses such as the Canada safety Council’s “55 Alive” program. Some of these programs may be attended or supported by adult children of the drivers. 

No driver wants to cause an injury due to his or her own visual, mental or physical condition. Those factors can affect the safety of a driver, and that can affect passengers, folks in other vehicles or pedestrians on sidewalks. 

Some seniors realize their driving ability is less than desirable, thus they give up driving. This is a difficult but admirable choice. However, there are too many cases where senior drivers are not willing to admit any shortcomings of their driving abilities. 

Seniors who drive do not use public transit as their main form of transportation as they get older. Their independence is perceived to hinge on their ability to drive a vehicle. Senior women aged 65 and over reported that they needed help getting to places to which they could not walk. People living alone are particularly likely to need help. It is not surprising to find that the majority of seniors, even those of more advanced ages, travel mostly by car. According to various sources, the majority of seniors have no intention of moving and plan to remain where they live as long as possible. The number and proportion of seniors who drive can therefore be expected to increase over the coming years. 

Why am I bringing up this matter? 

I am a driver training consultant. I deal with seniors who need to keep their “G” class driver’s licence. Most of them have been in a minor collision that was deemed to be their fault by the investigating police officer. As protocol requires, this is reported to MTO, which in turn makes the errant senior attend a test session at the DriveTest Centre on Kenora Avenue here in Hamilton. This is followed up by a “G2” exit test to prove their driving ability. 

Some who fail reluctantly do admit that it is time to “hang up” the keys. But there are those who fight tooth and nail that indeed they are good drivers and the examiner was prejudiced against them because of age and/or sex. Certain seniors claim they know that there is a vendetta by driver examiners to fail senior drivers. This is balderdash! Some of these failing seniors have gone to extraordinary lengths to blame everyone else but themselves for failing a road test. Remember that driving is a privilege, not a right. 

Seniors over 80 do not have to pay for their road tests. They may go as often as they are able to get bookings. It begs to ask the question: Is it not ridiculous to keep going and going for more road tests that one keeps failing? 

Perhaps if they had sought out a refresher driving course much earlier, they could have improved their driving skills and the results could have been different. 

Old habits are hard to break. There is an adage that says if you do something wrong for a long time, it will seem to be right. Unfortunately, this is the hallmark of most senior drivers. Time is a thief that robs one’s skill as one ages.

 Dez Miklós is owner and operator of “Say Dez!” Safe Driving Consulting in Hamilton.