| For many aging motorists, it is one of their biggest fears. What happens if one day they loose their drivers license because their skills and cognitive abilities just arent good enough anymore? Should government have the authority to take away their license? |
I believe they should but system itself needs to be one of gradually decreasing privilege, the reverse of the newly instituted graduated licensing system. The Alberta Motor Association also supports the principle of lifelong driver education, but believes the privilege of driving should be ability-related, not strictly age-related.
"AMA is investigating the merits of regular testing as a way of measuring any declines in drivers' abilities as they age," says Walter Barta, the Alberta Motor Associations coordinator of program and staff development for traffic safety. "There are a number of screening mechanisms that could be put in place to help people self-assess and identify problems earlier. And as drivers start having more difficulties, the testing should be more comprehensive and licence limitations added."
"We also need to be better informed about what happens to us as we age and to watch for the warning signs," adds Scott Wilson, AMA's manager of advocacy and community services. "It makes sense to have guidelines so that drivers and doctors would be able to accurately assess abilities and then implement driving restrictions as necessary. But such a system must not be punitive; it must have, as its goal, the preservation of a person's independence for as long as possible."
Jeff Caird, associate professor of psychology at the University of Calgary, has studied the issue extensively and believes a de-licensing process would also relieve some of the responsibility borne by physicians. Physicians are not always terribly good at assessing the capabilities of older drivers."
One reason for this is that patients, fearing their licence may be revoked, are usually reluctant to be completely honest with their physicians. And doctors who report patients with impaired driving abilities run the risk of losing patients or ruining their doctor-patient relationship. In Alberta, reporting such drivers is not mandatory, but it is in most other provinces, except Quebec and Nova Scotia. Also, taking the decision out of the hands of physicians may well protect those seniors still driving safely from losing their privileges because sometimes, says Barta, doctors make bad judgment calls. "Perhaps it's time for a community partnership approach, with insurance companies, motor-vehicle departments, families and employers playing a role in intervention to assist older drivers."
Like AMA, the Canada Safety Council supports the concept of graduated de-licensing as a way to enhance road safety without taking away the independence of drivers with diminishing abilities. "We know that mandatory testing at a certain age scares older people, and many turn in their licences needlessly," says Raynald Marchand, manager of traffic safety and training for the Canada Safety Council. "But it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing scenario. It makes sense to place restrictions gradually, on elements like night driving or driving during rush hour, and to at least allow drivers to retain some of their mobility."
Such a process would also give aging drivers time to make the necessary lifestyle changes, which may include moving to a neighbourhood where not having a car is a workable option. "It's important to remove as much of the fear and anxiety as we can, and to help people to remain mobile and independent as long as possible," says Marchand. "It just makes good sense."
TIPS FOR OLDER DRIVERS
TAKE YOUR TIME. Shift out of the fast lane and choose routes with slower speed limits. Avoid rush-hour traffic and on-the-road distractions, such as talking on a cellular phone or glancing at a map.
BE VIGILANT ABOUT YOUR HEARING AND VISION. Get regular hearing and eye exams and always wear the appropriate corrective lenses and keep those lenses clean. Keep windows,windshields and mirrors clean and clear, inside and out. Behind the wheel, move your head and eyes more often and remember that your line of sight may be lower than it used to be. Force yourself to look up and out at the road and traffic ahead.
CHECK THE FIT BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR CAR. Older drivers often feel safer in a familiar car, but a vehicle with up-to-date features and a comfortable fit will give the driver an added margin of safety. That can make it worth the time needed to adjust to a new vehicle. When shopping for a new vehicle, look for height-adjustable seats and head restraints that move, safety-belt anchors, tilt steering, good visibility, legible instruments and big, glare-resistant mirrors. Pay attention to the distance between your chest and the air bag in the steering wheel; to be safe, you'll want at least 30 centimetres (one foot) when your seat is properly adjusted.
BE AWARE OF MEDICATIONS. Use medication correctly and know how it could affect your driving. Keep in mind that combinations of medicines can impact driving ability -- ensure you are free from harmful effects before driving. With some medicines, you may not be able to drive at all.
STAY FLEXIBLE. Tasks such as gripping the wheel, turning in your seat and looking over your shoulder may become harder with age. Exercise to keep fit and flexible.
TAKE A REFRESHER COURSE. A course can help you assess your driving performance, refine skills and learn new behind-the-wheel techniques for coping with the effects of aging. It's also a good way to bring yourself up to date on changing traffic laws.
Source: AMA, Canada Safety Council and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
FIT TO DRIVE?
Watch for these warning signs:
* Driving much too slowly for the conditions
* Making turns too wide or too sharp (as we age, it becomes more difficult to judge a car's turning radius)
* Changing lanes without looking
* Other motorists continually honking
* Stopping at green lights
* Missing "Stop" and "Yield" signs
* Confusion at freeway entrances and merge lanes
* Difficulty operating the pedals
* Forgetting to wear a seat belt
* Difficulty shoulder-checking and relying too much on rear-view mirrors
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