September 22, 2019

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Age old question

B.C., Alberta and Ontario place restrictions on drivers when they turn 80, but Manitoba has no such rule. Advocates say it should stay that way

When Prince Philip was in a crash outside Sandringham Estate in rural England in January, media speculation focused on whether the Queen's husband should still be driving at 97.

He answered that question days later when he surrendered his licence.

In the U.K., driver's licences expire at age 70, when they must be renewed. Then they must be renewed every three years. There is no requirement for retesting, but drivers are expected to disclose any medical conditions that may impair their ability to drive. Buckingham Palace sources said for the last 27 years, the prince has followed those regulations.

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When Prince Philip was in a crash outside Sandringham Estate in rural England in January, media speculation focused on whether the Queen's husband should still be driving at 97.

He answered that question days later when he surrendered his licence.

In the U.K., driver's licences expire at age 70, when they must be renewed. Then they must be renewed every three years. There is no requirement for retesting, but drivers are expected to disclose any medical conditions that may impair their ability to drive. Buckingham Palace sources said for the last 27 years, the prince has followed those regulations. 

Broken glass and car parts on the road side near the Sandringham Estate, England, where Prince Philip was involved in an accident in January.

JOHN STILLWELL/PA VIA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Broken glass and car parts on the road side near the Sandringham Estate, England, where Prince Philip was involved in an accident in January.

In Canada, regulations vary by province. In Manitoba, there are no automatic restrictions as drivers age. In British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, drivers 80 years of age and older must renew their licences every two years, which requires a medical report from the driver's doctor. In Quebec, drivers must submit to medical and vision tests six months before reaching the ages of 75 and 80 and every two years after age 80. Similar restrictions are in place in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The rest of Canada, including all three northern territories, has no automatic restrictions on driving based on age.

In Saskatchewan, drivers 55 and older can take, free of charge, a mature driver refresher course. It's a six-hour, classroom-only course, with no ramifications on driving privileges. There is no test at the end.

Brian Smiley, spokesman for Manitoba Public Insurance, which regulates driving in the province, said while there are no requirements for retesting or renewing a licence, family members may, and health practitioners must, report drivers of any age whose health may affect driving ability.

"Family members can report an aging parent, but they must provide specific details," Smiley said in an email. "Further action is dependent on what is discovered, such as numerous at-fault collisions, or traffic convictions."

Smiley said in such a case, a suspension isn't automatic, but the driver will be called in for an interview.

Doctors and other health practitioners are obligated by law to report certain medical conditions — stroke, dementia, etc. — that affect a person's ability to drive. Such reports are treated much more seriously by MPI, Smiley said.

"The driver will be immediately suspended by MPI's medical compliance unit."

Erika Miller, spokeswoman for CAA Manitoba, said the organization doesn't take a stand on mandatory age-based retesting, but does offer drivers a toolkit (www.caa.ca/seniors) to self-assess their skills. The page includes information on how a driver's eyesight changes as they age, steps to take to modify driving behaviour and how to prepare for a drive.

"I can tell you we would encourage MPI and the appropriate medical authorities to continue to review those age-related provisions," she said.

What to look for

The Canadian Automobile Association provides a toolkit to help senior citizens assess their fitness for driving. Some of the key issues the CAA identifies:

Vision — The CAA notes results of an optometrist's test may not be inclusive: it's important to gauge a driver's ability to see at night, as aging can affect the amount of light a person needs to see properly, the ability to cope with bright or flashing lights — such as oncoming headlamps — as well as the driver's field of vision, which can narrow as a person ages.

The Canadian Automobile Association provides a toolkit to help senior citizens assess their fitness for driving. Some of the key issues the CAA identifies:

Vision — The CAA notes results of an optometrist's test may not be inclusive: it's important to gauge a driver's ability to see at night, as aging can affect the amount of light a person needs to see properly, the ability to cope with bright or flashing lights — such as oncoming headlamps — as well as the driver's field of vision, which can narrow as a person ages.

Hearing — The ability to hear sirens or other drivers honking a warning is critical to safe driving. The CAA, citing statistics from the Canadian Hearing Society, notes 60 per cent of drivers 65 and older have some hearing loss. Things to listen for include difficulty hearing in noisy situations, difficulty distingushing high-pitched sounds, greater difficulty hearing men's voices than women's, voices sounding garbled or mushed or a ringing sound in the ears. The association notes there are a number of medical and technological solutions to correct for hearing difficulty. 

Motor skills — slower reaction times can be caused by conditions such as arthritis or simply a loss of ability to concentrate, the CAA says. The association advises against driving if pain is affecting your ability to react quickly, to not drive while distracted and remain focused while driving and offers an online assessment tool here.

"Several studies have shown older drivers to be among the most cautious, but we know flexibility and reaction time change as you age," she said. "Some age-related changes are inevitable, but don't need to mean the end of driving life."

Qualifying conditions include a stroke, seizures, dementia or a disability that affects driving fitness.

Once suspended, MPI and the driver will decide on a plan, which could include retesting, additional medical follow-ups or placing restrictions on a renewed licence, he said.

Smiley said instituting mandatory retesting for older drivers is a legislative decision: MPI merely executes the strategies laid out by the provincial government. 

A spokesman for Colleen Mayer, minister responsible for MPI, said older drivers are still safe from such legislation for now.

"At this time, the Manitoba government is not considering any changes to create any additional age-related provisions for driving privileges. However, we are always considering measures to ensure Manitoba's roads are as safe as possible," the spokesman said.

And that's just fine, according to Connie Newman, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Seniors Centres.

"I am very cognizant of ageist attitudes," she said. "Just because I'm 71 doesn't mean I need to be retested."

Smiley said the current system applies regardless of a driver's age. "A teenager may suffer a seizure or a middle-aged person could suffer a stroke."

Connie Newman, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Senior Centres: 'Just because I'm 71 doesn't mean I need to be retested'

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Connie Newman, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Senior Centres: 'Just because I'm 71 doesn't mean I need to be retested'

Samantha Rodeck, co-ordinator of the Transportation Options Network for Seniors, is also opposed to mandatory age restrictions.

"Mandatory retesting is known to have a negative effect on mobility, especially for older women, as drivers may give up driving before they really need to," she said. "With a lot of medical services transferring to larger cities, access to medical services becomes an issue, particularly in rural communities, where driving is often the only form of transportation."

Rodeck said her organization offers Driving Safely presentations to help older drivers transition from driver to passenger. Contact information to book a presentation is available on the organization's website.

In Ontario, the process is involved, where drivers 80 and older must attend a classroom session, take a vision test, perform two in-class non-computerized screening assessments and, if necessary, take a road test. 

It should be noted, in Manitoba at least, statistics do not necessarily support a move toward mandatory restrictions for older drivers. Instead, the statistics seem to support more measures to counter poor driving at the other end of the age spectrum. In 2017, statistics from MPI show drivers aged 16 to 24 are more than 2.5 times likely to be in a collision than drivers 65 and older.

For every 10,000 licensed drivers, those aged 16 to 24 were involved in 1,103 collisions, compared with 432 collisions for drivers 65 and older. It's important to note such statistics do not correlate against the number of kilometres driven, which weakens the statistics somewhat, since more driving equals greater risk.

Looking deeper into the statistics, the main contributing factors also point to conditions other than age: of the causes directly related to human error, distracted driving leads by a large margin (30 per cent), followed by tailgating (12 per cent) and speed (seven per cent). 

The suggestion age isn't necessarily an indication of driving ability was met with quick agreement by Newman.

"Exactly," she said. "It's more of a cognitive approach as we age, and otherwise, we need to maintain what we have in Manitoba, which is retesting only when needed." 

kelly.taylor@freepress.mb.ca

Kelly Taylor

Kelly Taylor
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter

Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.

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