Our population is aging. There are about 2.8 million drivers in Canada over the age of 65. Seniors account for 15% of drivers killed in traffic accidents. Seniors aren’t as disproportionately represented as youths under 24, but given the demographics, there will be more and more accidents related to failing competence amongst Boomers and Zoomers.
A new police task force in Sudbury struck to deal with this problem has a rather daunting name: “The North East Dementia Network Coalition Safe Driving Task Force.” It doesn’t roll trippingly off the tongue, to be sure, especially when your memory isn’t great for long names. Maybe it’s a kind of test. If you can close your eyes and repeat the name of the task force, you’re probably still fit to drive. If not – well, we’re lookin’ at you, lady!
This article was published by The National Post on February 21st, 2013. To see this article and other related articles on The National Post website, please click here
The task force’s mandate is to increase road safety by identifying senior drivers who are no longer as competent on the road as they once were. According to reports, they are urging Sudbury residents “to anonymously report elderly motorists they feel are no longer fit to drive.” When they receive a tip, they will send a plainclothes officer to talk to the driver and see if the tip was valid, through questions about vision or hearing, for example, which could lead to a medical checkup or a new driving test.
Susan Eng, vice-president for advocacy of the Canadian Association for Retired Persons (CARP) feels this kind of targeting of everyone “who looks a certain age” is “a huge infringement on [seniors’] rights.” She feels everyone should be subjected to the same testing standards, and nobody should be presumed to be a greater risk than anyone else on the basis of their age.
But how do you identify at-risk drivers without “targeting” people? If you don’t want to waste enormous amounts of time and money in politically correct random checks, only targeting will do. If most accidents are caused by young, inexperienced, over-confident drivers, it doesn’t matter if your 18-year old son is ultra-prudent and responsible. He will still have to pay a higher insurance premium. If dementia is far more prevalent in the old, and it obviously is, then only by targeting the old can failing competence be weeded out.
But who will bell the cat? Especially when the cat loves her independence, and is unaware that her reflexes, judgment and knowledge of road rules is slipping? One way would be to make driving tests mandatory every year for people over a certain age. Another would be to rely on doctors reporting on patients they have diagnosed with dementia, as in fact they are bound to by law.
Mandatory annual tests in my opinion would cause far more anxiety in the elderly than targeted visits to those who have been singled out for declining driving skills. And by the time a doctor has diagnosed a person with dementia, it could be too late to prevent an accident. For the decline in reflexes and judgment can be subtle and unnoticeable, predating obvious signals of diminishing cognitive abilities that would signal the need for medical testing.
My own mother is a case in point. We were slow to realize that in her early 70s, she was beginning to drive erratically, because in most respects she was still normal, and we rarely drove with her at the wheel. But she used to ferry her grandchildren around. One day, when her 7-year old granddaughter was returned home, she asked her mother, “How come when I drive with Grandma people in other cars are always pointing at her?” She then demonstrated a classic middle finger salute, the universal rebuke to inconsiderate or erratic drivers.
At that point, we knew an “intervention” was necessary. We arranged for medical tests that confirmed the onset of Alzheimers. My mother (briefly) grieved her loss of independence, but there was no question of her continuing to drive.
As an oldie myself, I can’t imagine anything worse than causing an accident through my own failing competency on the road. I would like to think I will be sharp as a tack until I keel over at the age of 105 after having written and filed a particularly incisive blog post, but one never knows, and I would rather be temporarily mortified by a visit from the police than spend the rest of my life consumed by guilt for causing injury or worse to a fellow human being.
Public safety is more important than hurt feelings. So target away. Oldies and youth alike.