Mature drivers must keep skills sharp

National Senior Safety Week
November 6 - 12, 2008

Driving these days can be a daunting challenge for anyone; especially for those who face the realities of aging.

As our population ages the number of older drivers on Canadian roads is set to skyrocket. Currently, about 70 per cent of Canadians 55 and over have a driver’s licence. In Ontario, drivers over 80 are the fastest-growing segment of the driving population. Over the years, road fatalities have dropped significantly in all age groups – except with drivers 65 and over. Based on kilometres driven, mature drivers have more collisions than any other age group.

While tragic stories of traffic collisions involving seniors sometimes draw calls for age-specific limits on drivers’ licences, a more realistic and practical solution lies in improving driver education and driver fitness.

“There is no specific age after which people can no longer drive,” says Jack Smith, president of the Canada Safety Council. “But the reality is that aging brings new physical and mental challenges for drivers. Recognizing these challenges and learning how to compensate for them is a key for mature driver education.”

Some of the age-related challenges drivers face include reduced vision (especially at night), slower reflexes and a decrease in depth-perception. Many seniors also take medication for various aliments, some of which can affect their ability to drive. Another factor is dementia – a 2004 study estimated that in Ontario alone there will be nearly 100,000 drivers with dementia on the road by 2028. Researchers at the University of Ottawa who conducted the study are now working to develop a method for doctors to identify seniors who are medically unfit to drive.

The Canada Safety Council’s “55 Alive” driver refresher course helps mature drivers sharpen and update their skills, giving them tools to help stay safe on the road. The course teaches practical defensive driving techniques, slowing down, driving during the day and reducing the length of trips – all of which can help mitigate age-related challenges and keep mature drivers safer.

“’55 Alive’ helps mature Canadians retain their independence,” Smith adds. “Having the confidence and the skills to safely drive yourself where you need to go can greatly enhance quality of life for many seniors.”

While independence is important to us all, we must face the fact someday we will no longer be able to drive. As many baby-boomers watch their parents deal with aging, some difficult questions arise: How do I know when Mom and Dad can’t drive anymore? How do I tell them?

“The ’55 Alive’ course can be a good way for families to bring up this sensitive subject with mature drivers,” says Smith. “Part of the course helps them prepare for the day they can’t drive anymore by helping them learn to make alternative transportation arrangements and adjust to the change in lifestyle.”