Turning the Driving Corner

by Linda Manwarren, Wellness Committee

On the road again
Like a band of Gypsies we go down the highway
We’re the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turnin’ our way

— Willie Nelson

Ah, the freedom of taking to the road – this has become even more noteworthy during this time of COVID restrictions. The ability to take to the open road is a sign of independence whether you are 16 or 75 and can contribute positively to an overall feeling of well-being. However, looking through the lens of road safety, statistics show that both the youngest and oldest drivers among us are most at risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident. Licensing bodies attempt to develop and use assessments designed to identify potential problems that might place an individual at risk when driving. Driving is a complex task. Safe drivers, consistently and successfully, integrate visual, cognitive, physical, and perceptual skills. As people age, health conditions often develop that may impair these skills and negatively affect driving ability. Your vision, hearing, ability to react quickly, and cognitive fitness all play a part. The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) has gathered information from the Canadian Medical Association and Health Canada and shared it through text and video on their website. It contains reminders and tips for good driving habits as well as a review of health conditions that may affect driving abilities. Their website is user friendly and there is no need to be a member to access it. For Alberta residents, Alberta.ca/information-for-aging-drivers is another valuable resource.

Changes to our driving status is a reality we all need to consider. Having conversations with health care professionals when you notice a change in your feelings towards driving is a valuable first step. Perhaps you are feeling less comfortable in crowded parking lots or when you drive at night. According to CAA, on average, men outlive their driving careers by seven years, and women by ten years. Only Alberta Transportation as the Registrar of Motor Vehicle Services has the authority to cancel or suspend a driver’s license. In Alberta, shortly before your seventy-fifth birthday, you will need a form completed by a doctor or nurse practitioner. This Medical Examination for Motor Vehicle Operators provides an evaluation of the key areas that may affect your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Completion of this form is an uninsured service; physicians determine the fees for uninsured services such as completing this form. You can view and even download this form from the Alberta.ca site. At age 80 you are required to have the form completed every two years.

The area of cognitive fitness for driving is an even more difficult one to assess. Dr Brenda Vrkljan, in a recent blog on the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal, acknowledges that there is no single cognitive screening test that can solely determine whether an older person is fit to drive. Tests such as the Clock Drawing test may be used to help occupational therapists determine if further investigation is required. There is no specific age when a road test is required. Depending on any medical or physical conditions you may have, you may be required to complete a road test to help determine your ability to drive safely, regardless of age. If your doctor or nurse practitioner recommends that you complete a road test, Driver Fitness and Monitoring will review this recommendation and determine if a road test is required.

Turning this corner of life, similar to the act of driving itself, is complex action and one that requires thoughtful consideration.