Driver testing is designed to fail seniors

Our parents and our grandparents don’t have a lot of clout when it comes to protecting themselves from bureaucratic insensitivity

Our parents and our grandparents don’t have a lot of clout when it comes to protecting themselves from bureaucratic insensitivity … even these days when the “Families First” mantra dominates the government’s political rhetoric.

Sadly, insensitivity characterizes the bureaucracy’s efforts to force our elderly to surrender their driving privileges.

For our parents and grandparents in their 80s, a drive to the store and the bank a few times a week often represents their last vestige of independence. Once their driver’s licence is lost, mobility is diminished and lifestyle options are drastically reduced. For many it means giving up independent living for assisted living.

This forced march from independence to dependence can be heartbreaking.

The office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles does not concern itself with the emotional toll of this one-way ride. It appears to be focused solely on getting as many seniors off the road as possible and doing so in a manner that is costly and intimidating.

The superintendent routinely requires elderly drivers to submit to a Driver Medical Examination Report (DMER). It is the tool that assesses “the severity, progression, treatment or effects of a medical condition affecting a driver’s fitness.”

The DMER kicks in “when a reliable report of a potentially dangerous condition is received from a medical professional, police officer, concerned family member or other individual or the driver reaches age 80.”

The superintendent may then require the driver to participate in a “DriveABLE” road test to further assess cognitive fitness. DriveABLE is an Alberta-based company that basically has a B.C. monopoly on computerized cognitive testing and road testing of seniors.

Most drivers are familiar with free ICBC road tests. DriveABLE is a different animal. For starters it charges more than $300 for its assessment, an onerous amount of money for many pensioners.

Second, the cognitive test can take an hour to complete and is conducted on a touch screen computer. Many seniors in their 80s are hardly computer savvy enough to master email let alone adapt to a touch screen monitor under such pressure. The encounter can be incredibly intimidating.

Third, the subsequent driving test cannot be taken through ICBC using the driver’s own vehicle. It must be taken at a DriveABLE location (Victoria, Langford and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island) and it must be in a DriveABLE vehicle.

Seniors tend to drive vehicles they have grown accustomed to for a decade or more and they drive only in familiar environs. Those who live in quiet suburbs and neighbourhoods often avoid driving their car into busy downtown Victoria.

Getting behind the wheel of a DriveABLE Honda Civic with modern computerized bells and whistles can be disorienting and stressful for these seniors, particularly when the road test takes place in an unfamiliar and busy traffic environment.

Reliable sources in the professional driving community tell me that out of every 10 seniors who are subjected to the DriveABLE ordeal only three are expected to pass the computerized cognitive test. It is estimated another three will be deemed too cognitively impaired to ever drive again and the rest will be expected to submit to the road test.

It seems pretty obvious to me that this is a system designed to get seniors off the roads, not help them compassionately manage the transition from independence to dependence.

Our parents and grandparents deserve so much better in the new age of Families First. M

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