• Seniors Driving

If you’re over 80, you should have to take a Driver’s Test to keep your Licence 

Over the years, senior organizations have convinced governments to ease up when it comes to seniors and driving.

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald December 3, 2020

My Aunt, who was 96 when she left this mortal coil in 2013, drove until she was 94. She stopped when her last car got so old that it gave up the ghost.

She was a very good driver; she never tired of telling us, and never had an accident or even a parking ticket in all the years she was behind the wheel. And she did a lot of driving: her husband died young and so she drove to work, to the grocery store and everywhere else anyone would have to go.

One day, when she would have been 92 or 93, I arranged to meet her at the East York Town Centre for a coffee. When she was 10 or 15 minutes late, I got worried and went outside to see if she’d arrived. I saw her, and she was parking her car. It took her five minutes to work her way into a spot; it would have taken me 10 seconds. Then it took her another five minutes to get out of the car and to get her walker out of the back seat and I thought, “How stupid is this?”

And yet right now, today, chances are that somebody 92 or 93 would be able to renew their licence without too much difficulty because, of all the hoops you have to jump through after you turn 80, an actual driver’s test is not one of them. How stupid is that?

That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be flagged for a test but, in my Aunt’s case, she’d renewed her licence all the way through her eighties and into her nineties so her inability to move without her walker apparently hadn’t been a problem for the Transport Ministry. But it was a problem for my family and me.

We would talk to her about how she’d lived an exemplary life and what would happen if a kid ran into the street after a ball and she’d have to slam on the brakes? Could she move fast enough? Could she avoid killing that child? We knew the answer but she didn’t see it that way.

She would push back with all sorts of rationalizations, about how she planned her routes and stayed away from residential neighbourhoods, how she never drove before 9 a.m. or after 4, and so-on and so-forth. She lived in her own apartment, by herself, looked after herself and was sharp as a tack. All her sisters, including my mother, were like that. No dementia in that family. And no arguing with them either.

Over the years, senior organizations have convinced governments to ease up when it comes to seniors and driving. Until recently, those over 80 had to pass a test about the rules of the road – what does this stop sign mean, that sort of thing? Now, to renew, all you have to do is prove you don’t have dementia (you draw a clock and then a specific time on it; you cross out the letter “H” in a list), pass a vision test and attend a classroom session to go over some changes in traffic laws.

But no road test. How stupid is that?

I was talking about this a few years ago with a champion Canadian racing driver. I am not naming him because he is, unfortunately, well on the way down that dark road we all know about because we worry it might happen to us. But at the time, he was very concerned that too many over 80 were driving when they shouldn’t.

My friend had the ammunition: how people over 80 have as many, or more, crashes than the young male demographic; how older drivers are prone to being distracted while driving because they’ve been driving for so long; how it becomes more difficult to drive after dark when you’re older, and so-on.

One thing he was adamant about: no one over 80 should drive on the 400 series of highways in Ontario. “I won national championships,” my friend said. “I drove in three Formula One races; I was one of the best in the world. But even I am finding it difficult to drive on the 401, with everybody going 120 in the middle of Toronto, changing lanes without signalling and doing all sorts of other crazy things. I don’t like being out there because if something went wrong, I’m not sure I would be able to process what was happening and then react fast enough to avoid a crash.”

My friend was fine. I talked to him regularly. One day, he left his house in Toronto to drive to Barrie to visit another of our friends. He wound up lost, behind a school, in Barry’s Bay. The police took his licence when his wife called and asked them to find him.

I’m not all that far away from 80. I think I’m still a good driver. But I would feel better if I had to prove it every two years and that’s why I think everybody else should have to, too.