Waterloo, Ontario – A national study shows that older drivers face an array of licensing policies depending on where they live in Canada.

Requirements for licence renewal, reporting practices, appeals processes and options for restricted licences largely depend on the area in which the person lives, according to the researchers. The study was funded by Transport Canada and the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation and was carried out by researchers at the University of Waterloo, McMaster University and the University of Ottawa. It 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 to other road users.

Transport Canada’s data shows that in 2009, there were 3.25 million licensed drivers aged 65 and older, accounting for 14 per cent of the total driving popular. With 2011 marking the year that baby boomers begin turning 65, 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 Anita Myers, the researcher from the University of 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.”

In some provinces, but not all, drivers are subjected to medical review once they turn 70, 75 or 80. However, mass screening is costly and apart from in-person renewal, has shown minimal impact on fatalities, the study found.

Experts agree that the focus should be on identifying drivers who are potentially at risk medically, 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, which puts enormous pressure on doctors who have increasing numbers of older patients with chronic conditions and who lack valid tools to determine a patient’s fitness to drive.

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

Surveys have found that most seniors would rather have restricted licences, which could include no night or highway driving, rather than lose their driving privileges entirely. Licensing authorities are under pressure to expand restricted licences for older drivers that would be comparable to graduated licences for new 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.

For more information on the study, visit Candrive.

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