Monday, June 27, 2011

New study finds patchwork of licence requirements for older drivers

Challenges loom as first of the baby boomers turn 65 this year

WATERLOO, Ontario, June 27, 2011 /Canada NewsWire/ - A national study shows that licensing polices for older drivers, which until now have not been fully documented, vary widely in Canada.

Requirements for licence renewal, reporting practices, appeals processes and options for restricted licences largely depend on where someone lives, according to the researchers, Anita Myers from the University of Waterloo, Brenda Vrkljan from McMaster University and Shawn Marshall from the University of Ottawa.

The study, funded by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation and Transport Canada, found little agreement between the provinces and territories on the best ways to identify and regulate older drivers who may present a risk to themselves and other road users.

2011, the National Year of Road Safety, also marks the year Canadian boomers begin turning 65. Transport Canada data shows that in 2009 there were 3.25-million licensed drivers aged 65 and older, 14 per cent of the total driving population. The volume of senior drivers is expected to more than double in the next decade.

"This has huge implications for transportation planners, licensing authorities, health professionals and taxpayers," said Myers, a professor of health studies and gerontology at Waterloo. "While older drivers are involved in proportionately fewer collisions than younger drivers, they are more likely to be seriously injured or die as a result. The rate of fatal collisions starts to rise at age 70 and continues to increase for drivers in their 80s and 90s."

As drivers age, they are more likely to develop vision and other health problems that may compromise driving safety. In some provinces, but not all, drivers are subjected to medical review once they turn 70, 75 or 80. Mass screening, however, is costly and apart from in-person renewal, has shown minimal impact on fatalities.

Experts agree that the focus should be on identifying potentially medically-at-risk drivers regardless of age and thoroughly assessing each person's capabilities for continued safe driving. In most provinces, physicians are required to report patients they suspect are medically unfit to drive. This puts enormous pressure on doctors who have increasing numbers of older patients with chronic conditions and lack valid tools to determine fitness-to-drive.

Access to driver assessment centres, wait times and costs to drivers themselves also vary widely from province to province, according to the study.

For many seniors, driving is crucial for maintaining mobility and freedom. Surveys show that most would rather have restricted licences (such as no night or highway driving) rather than lose their driving privileges altogether. Licensing authorities are under pressure to expand restricted licences for older drivers, comparable to graduated licences for novice drivers.

Prior to the study, however, it was unclear which options were available across the country or how authorities monitor driver compliance with licence restrictions.

To make this information widely available, the Canadian researchers partnered with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety to produce a comprehensive website on current practices and promising approaches regarding medically at-risk and older drivers. The site provides one-stop shopping for professionals and the general public looking for information on licensing regulations and resources.

"The public has a right to know what is being done in various parts of the country, while policy makers need these data to make informed decisions based on best practices," said Kent Bassett-Spiers, CEO of the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation. "This research is the first step in unifying policies and setting strategic priorities."

For more information on the study, visit

About Waterloo

The University of Waterloo, located at the heart of Canada's Technology Triangle, is one of Canada's leading comprehensive universities. Waterloo is home to 30,000 full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students who are dedicated to making the future better and brighter. Waterloo, known for the largest post-secondary co-operative education program in the world, supports enterprising partnerships in learning, research and discovery. For more information about Waterloo, visit

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