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Driving after the big 8-0.

It’s one of the most sensitive subjects.

According to a recent study, more than half of Canadians intend to keep driving past 80. Makes sense – for many active and alert seniors, driving is a huge part of their lifestyle. To suggest they hand over the keys? You may as well have suggested they stop breathing.

To be fair, there are a ton of independent statistics that show seniors in highschool are more dangerous than senior citizens when it comes to road safety, but the question lingers. Is it safe to keep driving into old age?

Looking at the numbers.

One in ten Canadians have been in a motor vehicle collision with a senior. While many readers may see this as pejorative evidence that seniors are unsafe on the road, it’s important to remember that being on the road in general is unsafe for seniors – they’re at greater risk for mortality in automobile accidents across the board, whether they are the driver or not.

At the end of the day, this isn’t a question of risk, it’s a question of capacity. 

Seniors are in a very specific predicament – many are on medication that could impair their ability to “use heavy machinery”. In fact, two-thirds of Canadians 65 and over have 5+ different prescriptions. Even more staggering? More than 40% of seniors over 85 take 10 or more drugs.

Adult children of older drivers are often left wringing their hands, wanting to keep their parents (and other drivers) safe, but unable to take away the keys. If a senior is living in an age-friendly community, there will be alternative transportation options when they decide to stop getting behind the wheel… But for many seniors who are not living in a city centre, giving up their license amounts to the cessation of their routines – and their independence. 

“My father had a stroke, but he lives in a rural area, and I know he still drives to the store once a week [against the law]. I can’t bring myself to take his car away, he would be isolated,” explained Jessica*.  (Name changed for privacy.)

What does 80+ mean for drivers in Canada?

In Canada, there is no consistency for license renewal and driving capacity in old age. That means where a senior lives will impact their access and permission to drive a vehicle. Most provinces do require drivers over 80 to take a written test every two years to renew their license, but an in-car assessment is only required if prompted by the staff administering the written group test.

There are some safety tips that can help seniors be safer on the road, and it’s important to remember having “the talk” with a senior in your care won’t always be met with hostility or defensiveness.

“I am 70 and just bought a car again last year, “ says Gail McGinnis, of Hamilton, Ontario. “I really depend on it and would hate to give it up. Most of my friends don’t have a vehicle and kind of depend on me driving them – but when my attention starts to wane, that is when it will be time. I always thought that at 80 we should give it up.”

 

A blanket approach to seniors on the road is not a fair or effective way to determine driving capabilities. Communication is going to be the #1 strategy to keep seniors who are excellent drivers on the road, and also the best way to protect seniors who would be safer as a passenger than a driver.

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