Salmon Arm seniors protest DriveABLE policies

Seniors think the testing and the process cause a lot of undue stress and do not provide a true accounting of their abilities.

Angered octogenarians: A group of concerned Salmon Arm seniors look at the BC Driving Regulations on the computer.

Angered octogenarians: A group of concerned Salmon Arm seniors look at the BC Driving Regulations on the computer.

Aging can bring with it difficult transitions – and a group of Shuswap-area seniors thinks government driving regulations are both creating and exacerbating difficulties for some seniors.

Chuck MacDonald would like seniors to be aware of what might await them and would like those in positions of power over drivers to consider the results of their decisions.

“Victoria makes arbitrary decisions and we, as seniors, should be aware of how they’re going to affect us, and so should the advisors – doctors, cops and others – to Victoria…,” he says.

MacDonald is referring to regulations in effect for drivers as they turn 80.

“In smaller areas like Salmon Arm, if you lose your mode of transportation, it can be devastating. We’re encouraged to stay in our homes, but if you’ve lost permission to drive, how do you stay there, and if you can’t stay there, where do you go?”

He and several other seniors think the testing and the way the process is administered cause a lot of undue stress, are not senior friendly, and do not provide a true accounting of their abilities.

Steve Martin, B.C.’s superintendent of motor vehicles, outlines the current requirements regarding older drivers.

•At age 80 and every two years after that, he says, people are required to have a driver’s medical examination, which is carried out by a doctor and tests physical and cognitive abilities. The province provides $75 to doctors for the exam, but some doctors charge a fee over and above that.

•The standardized report is sent to the superintendent’s office and its team of nurses, who decide if any follow-up testing is necessary.

“Sometimes we get a report that clearly indicates a major concern. At that point, somebody’s driving privileges could be rescinded,” Martin says. If there are no concerns, the driver carries on as normal.

•If some concerns about a driver’s cognitive abilities are raised, the superintendent’s office will send the driver a letter requiring them to undertake an in-office ‘DriveABLE’ assessment, which is a cognitive test done using a computer screen.

“They have to touch the computer screen in response to things that are being presented,” Martin says.

People from Salmon Arm have been instructed to go to Kelowna for both the DriveABLE computer assessment and the road test, which may be required later. If the driver fails or passes the DriveABLE assessment, they don’t take a road test. The failed driver will no longer be able to drive, whereas the driver who passes can continue.

•“If they score in the middle zone – not a clear pass and not a clear fail – we refer people to an on-road assessment,” Martin says.

The on-road assessment is not done in the senior’s own car but in one that has, for safety reason, dual controls, he explains.

Martin says only a small percentage of seniors who go for the initial driver’s medical examination end up having further testing.

“We assess 44,000 seniors every year and only 1,500 of those are referred to DriveABLE.”

However, that’s small consolation to Salmon Arm seniors Chuck and Joyce MacDonald, Boyd Greer, Fred and Vivian MacDonald, and Joe and Jenny Veldhoen. Although they understand that unsafe drivers shouldn’t be driving, they disagree with the process. Vivian MacDonald went to a doctor after receiving the letter saying she would have to have a medical. She expected just a physical exam.

“All I did was pay $50, he asked me all these questions and by this time I was frazzled,” she recalls, noting that the doctor then took her blood pressure which was high. “I just froze. I couldn’t think. I came out of there so frustrated. I don’t think older people should be put through this.”

She also felt badly and under pressure being in the doctor’s office, trying to recall items on a grocery list the doctor had recited to her, while the waiting room was filled with sick people,

Joe Veldhoen says he first received a notice to see a doctor in early October and he’s still not done with the process. He, too, didn’t like the computer test, finding the glare of the screen and the format unsettling. After taking all the required tests he was given back his licence, but he still hasn’t received the letter he expected confirming everything’s official.

“It comes out of the blue,” says his spouse Jenny of the requirements. “You can’t sleep anymore, thinking about it.”

Joe agrees.

“They make all this to-do about elder abuse. I think they’re doing a good job themselves.”

Greer points out that so much is at a doctor’s discretion, he’d like the motor vehicle branch to handle the exam.

Says Chuck MacDonald: “We want a realistic test, a better test, better treatment and more consideration.”

Superintendent Martin, meanwhile, says the DriveABLE test is scientifically proven and the computer procedure is similar to what people are used to when taking eye exams. He did say, however, that his office will be striving to better communicate with seniors and to explain the process better.

“We need to balance the need for public safety and the need for people’s mobility. We do try to keep people driving as long as they can, within the context of safety.”


Editor’s note: On Monday afternoon, the B.C. government announced it would no longer use the DriveABLE program as a sole factor in revoking a licence. The Observer will provide an update as details become available.