I am thankful to Paul Lacney, a retired insurance adjuster, for bringing the human rights concerns of Ed Rockburne, a retired RCMP officer, to my attention. Human rights issues fall squarely within the “achieving justice” theme of this column. Regular readers know that I regularly stray from that theme into topics of road safety. Mr. Rockburne’s concerns happen to spill over into both themes.
Mr. Rockburne lives in Ontario. He is going after the government for discriminating against Ontario drivers on the basis of age. Like British Columbians, Ontario drivers must jump through some special hoops to retain their driving privileges solely on the basis of reaching their 80th birthday.
Thoughts of “Whew” and “Thank goodness” might be going through the heads of those of us who are some distance from achieving that age. There is a public perception that the older we get, the more dangerous we are behind the wheel. That perception is helped along by news reports that make specific mention of the age of an at-fault driver, when the at-fault driver happens to be of an advanced age.
Different thoughts might be going through the heads of those who have achieved the age of 80, or for whom that age is getting uncomfortably close. Most of us take our mobility for granted. Getting from point A to point B, whether it is to pick up groceries, pay bills, see a doctor, go for a blood test, or any other purpose, is not a concern for most of us because we can just hop in the car and away we go. Think about how you would manage if that car was taken away from you.
Driving becomes more and more an essential mode of transportation the older we get, as a decline in our physical strength and endurance make alternative modes such as riding a bicycle and walking to the bus more and more difficult. Likewise, I expect that our mobility becomes more and more essential to our physical and mental health as we age to prevent us from becoming less and less active and more and more isolated.
The “hoop” a British Columbia driver has to jump through on achieving the age of 80 (and every two years thereafter) is to submit a “Driver Medical Examination Report”. The report requires an assessor to provide an opinion as to whether or not the patient has a condition that, “may affect driving”. An adverse opinion on the report can result in the senior’s driver’s license being cancelled.
Age discrimination is prohibited in Canada pursuant to the Canadian Human Rights Act as well as provincial codes. A requirement to jump through hoops to retain your driving privileges based solely on achieving a certain age, is about as clear an example of discrimination as could be conceived of.
Does public safety justify that blatent discrimination?
It turns out that senior drivers might be safer than we think. This makes sense if we accept that a failure to pay careful attention to the road is the primary cause of crashes. Age related reductions in reaction times, ability to swivel our heads around to shoulder check, and vision might be more than compensated for by greater and greater care with driving.
Americans seem to be a distance ahead of us Canadians when it comes to driving statistics. I found a web site of an independent, nonprofit United States organization called the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They did a study of collision claims based on age groups. That study indicates that the frequency of collision claims is highest for drivers aged 15-19 and steadily declines with age reaching the lowest level in the 60-64 age group. The frequency begins to climb again for age groups 65 and older, but never approaches the level of teenagers.
We already have mechanisms in place to remove driver’s licenses from those who have medical conditions that make driving unsafe, regardless of age. Physicians, optometrists and psychologists are required by law to report patients, whom they believe are unfit to drive, to the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles. Other health care practitioners, family members and any concerned citizen can also report their concerns about a person’s ability to drive.
Why do we need to add age discrimination into the mix? Let’s say you are an 80 year old who has never caused a collision in your life and is a statistically safer driver than other age groups. You must take a blank Driver Medical Examination Report to a walk-in clinic for assessment by a busy physician who might, exercising caution in the course of a brief examination, remove your independence and dignity.