Feature Story                                                                                                       Tuesday, March 20, 2012

 

Who's Going To Drive You Home, Tonight?

Seniors question validity of DriveABLE Program

Craig Hill/Voice photos

 

Kathy Corrigan, NDP MLA and official opposition critic for the Motor Vehicle Branch, speaks to crowd at Tzeachten Hall last Thursday.  

 

en words to freedom. That's part of what it takes to retain your licence if you're 80 years-old and over. If seniors fail the test, there will be no more getting their kicks on Route 66 and they can also forget all about paradise by the dashboard light.

 

Last Thursday, New Democrat MLA and official opposition critic for the Motor Vehicle Branch Kathy Corrigan met with about 150 Chilliwack seniors at the Tzeachten Hall on Promontory the new senior's driver fitness training program called "DriveABLE".

 

According to the DriveABLE website, "when medical conditions or medication changes affect someone’s abilities even the best drivers can become unsafe. Due to the effect of the medical condition a driver may lack insight into his or her current driving skills. Past driving records and personal opinions about those skills may not be relevant when considering if someone is safe to drive. If there is memory loss, poor judgment, indecisiveness, disorientation or loss of strength, flexibility or balance, it is time to determine if the changes are affecting driving."

 

At age 80, every driver is now being asked to complete a Driver Medical Examination with their physician. This is a general medical assessment that examines a person’s medical fitness to drive safely, and it assesses vision, physical abilities and medical conditions that may affect driving. Only those people who have been identified by a physician as having cognitive issues are referred by the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, to DriveABLE. Government pays the full cost of the assessment for any drivers they refer. The assessments are done every two years.

 

 

 

The program was introduced to BC back in 2005 and according to a fact sheet, the driver fitness program assesses about 130,000 drivers of all ages with 44,000 of those people over the age of 80. Out of those 44,000, about 1,050 elederly drivers are referred to DriveABLE for further assessment of cognitive impairment.

 

Some of the concerns regarding the program are that some people live in rural communities and have to drive long distances to be tested, driving in an unfamiliar place. Additionally, if a senior fails the test, they lose their licence on the spot and so they have to bring a licenced companion to drive them home again.

 

Other concerns are related to costs, road testing in an unfamiliar vehicle, no technology practice time, poor lighting and the use of technology unfamiliar to them.

 

In a release last month, Shirley Bond, Minister of Transportation, said that mobile units are often deployed to smaller communities such as Fort St John and Peace River.

 

Gwen O'Mahony talks with senior at DriveABLE forum.

 

"We continue to look at opportunities to expand services, where required," said Bond.

 

"The tests," says Bond "are designed to assess for driving errors associated with cognitive decline, not general driving skill or knowledge of rules of the road. Although the in-office assessment is presented by a health-care professional on a touch-screen monitor, computer knowledge is not required and has no bearing on assessment results."

 

NDP Chilliwack-Hope Candidate Gwen O'Mahony told The Voice in an e-mail Monday that she was pleased the forum took place in this city.

 

"I was impressed with Kathy Corrigan's presentation and decision to host the Town Hall in Chilliwack. Considering the amount of people who attended the forum and the general consensus in terms of concerns surrounding the way the test is conducted, clearly the DriveABLE assessment needs assessing," she wrote. "There weren't any arguments raised around the issue of testing at the age of 80. It appeared to me that most of the people present agreed for the need of some form of assessment. It was the use of computers and the driving test performed in a community and vehicle that is unfamiliar to the driver that was top of the list in terms of needing revision. And you were there when the question of respect in terms of how the test is given and the language used on the final paperwork, for example labeling a person as "impaired" was also called into question. I would highly recommend that any senior who feels concerned about this test, to contact COSCO as they can provide support and valuable information."
 

Even though a person may have been driving for 70 years without tickets or accidents, they'll still have to go through the rigorous tests and meet the requisite.

 

There are questions about the validity of the exam which includes the Simard test where cognitive ability is tested and the person is asked to repeat 10 words. The touch-screen testing includes; reaction time, hand-eye coordination, mental dexterity and processing etc.

 

"It's very difficult, and I think that's why so many people are concerned, and as of the moment you finish the test, you may be told that you shouldn't drive any more.," said Corrigan who took the test and passed. "That's a big shock."

 

"They will only screen out those with cognitive impairment, so I don't know, but I am trying to believe that the test is fair and is not having what we call 'false positives'.

 

Currently, there is no DriveABLE office in Chilliwack. The nearest one is in Abbotsford, so local drivers will need to travel there.

 

An unfortunate by-product of the testing has some people upset, angry and frustated. According to some reports, testing has left some professional drivers in tears.

 

The 15 minute road test costs $75, and some seniors have commented that after all is said and done, it will cost about $300 per driver assessment, however there are no dollar amounts listed on the DriveABLE website.

 

"What senior on fixed income has that kind of money sitting around doing nothing?" voiced one at the forum.

 

On Monday, the provincial government announced changes to the DriveABLE program.

 

“The most important change means that a decision regarding a person’s ability to continue driving will not be made solely from an in-office computer assessment. People who fail the computer assessment will be offered a DriveABLE road assessment. The results of the in-office assessment combined with the on-road evaluation and medical information will ensure license decisions are made in the fairest manner possible. The Province will pay for the cost of both assessments,” said Shirley Bond in a news release.

 

“We have listened to the concerns expressed by seniors and we are taking action. For several months I have had our staff looking at the geographic issues and the need for a more effective model for rural communities. Our goal is to keep drivers on the road as long as it’s safe to do so, and my staff will continue to look for ways to improve this program. By offering the DriveABLE on-road assessment in addition to the in-office computer assessment, and by also taking into account the medical referral, the superintendent will be able to make the most informed decision possible around driver fitness.”

 

Some people in the community have suggested that if seniors just do local driving, they should be able to trade in the old Crown Vic's for something smaller, perhaps electric, in order to get around. Additionally, public transit and the DART are available to those who don't drive.

 

Coffee and snacks were generously provided by Bravo Restaurant, 46224 Yale Road East  Chilliwack (604) 792-7721 www.bravorestaurant.ca 

 

For more information on driver medical fitness issues in B.C., visit: www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/osmv

 

To find out more about DriveABLE, visit: www.driveable.com 

 

CBI Eldercare Services - Fraser Valley Branch, #110 - 46167 Yale Rd., Chilliwack (877) 224-5355 www.cbi.ca/web/eldercareservices-fraservalley/map  Monday - Thursday: 9:00am - 5:00pm

Friday: 9:00am - 4:00pm

 

Related links:

See "Senior Drivers" here.

 

See more photos below.

 

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