How old is too old to drive?

Andy Radia
Canada Politics
February 13, 2012

A new Statistics Canada study has raised some alarming statistics about the physical and cognitive abilities of our driving seniors.

According to the report, 19 per cent of the 3.25 million people aged 65 and over that had a driver's licence could not see well enough to read a newspaper or recognize a friend on the other side of the street - even with glasses.

Moreover, one-quarter  of  seniors  with Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia still had a valid driver's licence.

It's a sensitive question but it's one that needs to be addressed by governments across the country: how old is too old to drive?

Unfortunately, as people age they tend to suffer from decreased vision, slower reflexes, and their ability to attend to multiple stimuli (e.g. pedestrians, signs, and traffic) is compromised.

Additionally, seniors are more susceptible to illnesses such as heart disease, arthritis and dementia which can lead to tragic consequences on our roads.

It's a problem that is only going to get worse.

People 65 and older are the fastest-growing demographic in North America, and, by 2040, a quarter of all licensed drivers will be in that age group.

According to a University of Victoria study, those that are 70 years of age and older are involved in 8 fatal crashes per million miles driven whereas drivers 40-49 years of age are involved in 1 fatal crash per million miles.

So what are governments in Canada doing about aging drivers?

Not much.

In Canada, there is no standard approach to testing seniors for driving fitness.

According to Silver Pages, a home healthcare and independent living website, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick there is no age at which an older driver must be re-tested or submit to a medical exam for driving.

In the Yukon, the age requirement for a medical exam starts at age 70 and in Alberta, Quebec, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Newfoundland and Labrador, it starts at age 75.

In Ontario and B.C., an 80-year-old driver must submit to a medical fitness exam.

Even with the medical examinations, critics argue family physicians are failing to see the early signs of dementia that might affect driving.

Across Canada, governments have spent millions of dollars in strict measures to improve the driving record of teenagers but, seemingly, little has been done with regards to the driving habits of the elderly.

Several jurisdictions in the United States require older license applicants to be road tested. Many other states require mandatory medical tests starting at age 70.

Maybe we should start doing the same in Canada.