by Sherrin Griffin VP, Operations, Sidney SeniorCare –
When the progression of my grandfather’s cancer affected the safety of his driving, for himself and others, my mother and grandmother knew it was “time.” Although I don’t recall the specific details of how they gently suggested that he give up driving, I do remember the quiet indignity of it all. His illness had taken so much from him already, and the revoking of that last vestige of independence was heartbreaking to see.
Fast forward to present day; now that I am a pre-senior myself I find myself wondering how I would feel if my driving privileges were taken away. On the one hand, I can’t ever imagine not having the freedom, or the convenience, to hop in the car and take myself pretty much anywhere I may want to go. Considering the number of decades I’ve already been driving, it would be strange not to have that option anymore, and terribly inconvenient to have to arrange transportation for even the most basic of errands such as grocery shopping, appointments or meeting with friends.
On the other hand, although only in my 50s, I’ve already begun to notice some changes in my vision, which, although they seem to be a natural part of the aging process, do affect my driving. For instance, I’ve had several conversations with others in my peer group about the challenges of driving at night, especially in the rain – the glare of the headlights bouncing off the wet pavement, the lack of visual contrast to discern details … I must admit that I am starting to avoid driving at night, especially when I know it’s going to be raining. The conditions that were fully in my comfort zone even 10 years ago now impact when and where I want to drive these days.
Other than vision changes, some seniors or even pre-seniors have hearing impairment, mobility challenges and/or cognitive issues which may impact reflexes, reaction times and decision making while operating a motor vehicle. Some of these issues may not be perceptible in any other situation, but become apparent when driving.
In the province of B.C., all drivers aged 80 and older must pass a Driver’s Medical Examination Report every two years, completed by their doctor or nurse practitioner. The examination includes testing for eyesight, overall physical health and cognition (memory, attention and judgement). Oddly enough, it does not include a road driving test. According to RoadSafetyBC, approximately 98% of these seniors keep their driving privileges.
Transport Canada, however, shows an alarming trend since 2010: more seniors have died in traffic fatalities than any other age group across Canada. This does not necessarily mean that they are worse drivers, but age, fragility and pre-existing health conditions definitely make seniors more vulnerable to serious injury or death in a vehicle crash.
There are many resources currently available for senior drivers and their families: SeniorsBC, ICBC, CAA and the Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence all provide helpful information about road safety; driver self-assessments; driving safely with medical conditions, driving and dementia; and support for those considering retiring from driving.
Many mature drivers, like myself, are already adjusting when and where they drive so they feel comfortable and safe. Vehicle safety technologies such as blind spot and lane departure warning systems, “smart” headlights and crash mitigation systems are becoming increasingly available on new car models, and with the advent of self-driving, autonomous cars, this topic may very well become a moot point.
In the meantime, keep an open, non-judgemental dialogue with the elderly driver(s) that you love, expressing your concerns for their safety while respecting their need for independence and dignity. And, it might also help to point out that there are plenty of perks to being a passenger, rather than a driver. As my own father, the eternal optimist, says: “Now I can relax and enjoy all those sights along the way!”