Friday, February 24, 2012

Senior drivers in the news

We wouldn't let this guy drive, either!
Ontario considers new rules for senior drivers, says transport minister, Chiarelli
The number of elderly drivers who are cognitively impaired has risen significantly in recent years...

It is not surprising. But I truly wonder if it is that physicians are correctly reporting cognitively impaired drivers, more seniors are being tested, or family members are stepping up to the plate.
In fact, since Ontario instituted mandatory testing for those 80+, collision rates have fallen 45% since 2000.

Physicians have begun to follow the law, reporting impaired drivers from 30,000 a year in 2006, to 50,000 in 2010. Of these, 70% had licences suspended immediately.

Drivers like this put us all at risk.
From my work with dementia clients, we know how devious they are at covering up their impairments! As human beings, we have a long history of self-preservation. Dementia commonly affects the prefrontal cortex, where higher level thinking takes place. Yet, my mother covered up her hearing impairments, and chose to pick up driving when Dad's licence was taken away.

My father chose not to disclose that he would get lost going home, a classic sign of dementia. His doctor chose to ignore the information until Dad had a petite-mal seizure while driving, then a grand-mal seizure in his kitchen. This, to my mind, is criminal. Mom had not driven in 30 years, and that a VW Beetle. She had many problems driving their mini-van. The neighbours would rescue her, a park the car for her. None told me about this.

A man, undiagnosed, who was found shoveling the snow in his backyard in June, still drove to meetings that did not exist. Someone needs to step in.

As with many issues, 'it takes a village to raise a child.' All of us must take responsibility to identify and report anyone with biological, physiological and cognitive issues that impact on our driving abilities. They are our loved ones; those they can kill, in a moment, when they forget, or cannot check a blind spot, cannot react quickly in self-defense, or drive too slowly on highways.
Pick a lane, any lane.
He just hauled off into traffic.

In my experience, physicians are loathe to test at-risk seniors, family members are loathe to piss off a parent, and society refuses to report dangerous drivers. In small communities, people recognize when a person with dementia fails to look both ways before pulling into traffic. They do not tell far-off extended family, out of, I think, some sense of loyalty. This must change.

There are many quick, 10-minute, cognitive tests physicians may administer in their offices.
There is no excuse for this lack of testing by either Transportation Departments, who test vision, rules of the road and knowledge of road signs. But this may not be enough.

Do we become better drivers, the older we get?
Current stats, in the recent Ontario move to more severely curtail teen drivers, reveals statistics that demonstrate seniors are more risky than newbie teen drivers:
  • 6.4 % of fatal accidents caused by those less than 20 years of age
  • 7.3 % caused by those over age 65 (with fewer km traveled).
  • While 16 - 19 yr. olds have accident rates of 2.47 per 10,000
  • Adults over the age of 65: 2.9 per 10,000
It is not ageism. It is a fact that as we age we are less limber, less aware, take driving for granted, we have more vision, flexibility, attention, hearing, mobility and reflex issues. Driving habits deteriorate. No question.

Federal Highway Administration data
SLower drivers piss off everyone.

  • drivers 75 years and older have higher rates of fatal motor vehicle crashes than any other age group except teenagers.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
  • drivers 85 and older have nearly twice the number of fatal accidents as those 16 to 19.
Collisions and traffic violations in the elderly population reflect:
  • errors of inattention
  • failure to yield
  • difficulty maneuvering
  • driving too slowly
  • Dangerous decisions are made every day on the highway
  • left-hand turns are dangerous. 

It is not about our dignity, our inadequacy, or ageism.
We do not target senior drivers. We target those who prove a risk.
How old is too old to drive? This is the wrong question. How frail is too frail to drive?

I reported this driver (below), as well as another who continued to drive 20 km under the speed limit on 80km/hour highways. An incident waiting to happen. Drivers would pass impatiently, unsafely, to avoid this man, along this 30 km stretch of Ontario's highway.

They're just getting faster and faster out there.

For more reading: How to tell your parents they cannot drive

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