There are few privileges provided to Canadian citizens that require so little maintenance as a driver’s license. When your license expires every few years, you simply renew it at an ICBC licensing office. You are not required to actually prove that your driving skills remain adequate.
ICBC and the Canadian government trust you to self-report any issues which may impair your ability to drive. So when does this become an issue? Well, as you may have guessed, it can become problematic with the elderly.
Everyone ages at different rates, but generally speaking it is fair to say that the elderly have slower reaction times, and reduced vision and hearing capacity. All of these factors can play into an increased risk of an accident while operating vehicles. Knowing this, one might think that ICBC would implement mandatory re-testing for the elderly at a certain age. They do not, however.
Instead, for a standard (non-commercial) licence ICBC will send you a notice a few months before your 80th birthday, requiring you to take a medical examination. They will then require you to take that same exam every two years moving forward.
Medical Exam vs. Driver’s Re-Test
Now, this goes without saying, but a medical exam and a driver’s test are not the same things. That being said, of course, there is a great value to a medical exam. A medical exam can certainly identify problems that would translate to someone needing their license revoked.
However, just because a medical exam may be able to identify conditions that make driving unsafe, it does not provide the same guarantee that an actual driving test would. The doctor may say that your reflexes seem good for your age, but what does that translate to when a car unexpectedly pulls out in front of you?
A Few Statistics
In addition to the myriad of medical conditions that may impede an elderly driver from operating a motor vehicle safely, they are also more vulnerable to injury and less likely to survive a serious accident.
In a 2011 report, Transport Canada stated that drivers over 65 years old represented 17% of accident-related fatalities, despite only accounting for 14% of licensed drivers. Taking the opposite point of view, an article by the Globe and Mail reported that even as the baby-boomers are aging and therefore an increased number of elderly drivers are on the road, accident rates for seniors are actually dropping.
Even so, the elderly still do statistically represent the largest number of motor vehicle accident related fatalities per age group. However, this number is attributed to their physical vulnerability and susceptibility to injury rather than any propensity to get into an accident in the first place.
According to the managing director of communications and government relations at the Canadian Automobile Association’s national office, Ian Jack, “While older drivers have their issues, we have to remember that overwhelmingly the most dangerous drivers on the road are young males.”
The Warning Signs
While the elderly may not be the prominent source of accidents that many people assume them to be, it is still vital for their safety and the safety of others on the road that they take certain precautions while driving. According to the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, there are specific warning signs that you should look out for in order to re-assess your driving capacity.
A few warning signs include: You lose your way; You have less confidence in your driving skills; You miss stop signs or traffic lights; You have problems with lane changing or merging; Your passenger needs to help you.
ICBC may not require a medical examination until you turn 80 years old, but you may first to notice the warning signs of compromised driving ability sometime earlier in life. It is our responsibility as drivers, to be honest with ourselves and with those around us as to our capacity to safely operate a vehicle. When you admit that you do not have all of the capabilities that you once did, you may by your honesty help to save lives.
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