Turning In Your Wheels

By Nadine Jones

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You’ve decided it’s time to get off the road; or perhaps you’ve failed a Motor Vehicle Branch test (mandatory every two years for drivers over 80 in Ontario and B.C. or every five years if there are no medical problems). If a medical problem exists, your doctor may decide you should no longer drive and you must hang up your car keys for good.

Right now, it may feel like the end of the world. But it isn’t - not quite.

Take heart! There are alternatives to driving your own car from point A to point B and, in the long run, the alternatives are a lot more cost effective than keeping your own vehicle on the road. They’re just not as handy.

Country and small-town dwellers, unfortunately, don’t have the same opportunity for alternative transportation as city dwellers, but on a more optimistic note, they might have more compassionate neighbours with cars who would be happy to share a shopping trip or a “lunch out” date.

In cities, programs are available like B.C. Transit’s handyPass; Translink’s handyCard or a Taxi Saver service, each of which provide concession fares for seniors.

Also, in the Lower Mainland, the Freemason Drivers Program provides free transportation for cancer patients to and from appointments (Phone 604-872-2034).

As more and more seniors hang up their car keys, various programs are either ongoing or being formed to make public transportation more user-friendly. One such program, All About M.E. (mobile education), is headquartered at the Collingwood Community Policing Centre. Co-ordinator Chris Taulu (phone 604-717-2935) explained the concept: “We take groups of about 12 seniors at a time to familiarize them with such things as purchasing tickets for 1, 2, or 3 fare zones on buses or the Sky Train. We show them where the stations are located and how to read a Zone Map (available through Customer Information, phone 604-953-3333).”

“The participants feel more comfortable taking a bus or the sky train alone after the group experience,” she says. “As an additional benefit, many isolated seniors have met other people and formed lasting friendships.”

If misery loves company, you are not alone when you quit driving. We all are forced to quit sometime and even professional drivers reach a stage or age when they have to turn in their wheels.

For example, Peter, 89, a U.K. relative, drove racing cars professionally in England for years and raced in the 1957 Monte Carlo Rally (placed third).

“About six months ago, I found myself driving less and less and making excuses for not going out in my car,” says Peter. “Eventually, I realized I hadn’t driven for over six weeks and admitted to myself and others that my driving career was finished. The decision was evolutionary rather than revolutionary. I’m sure the family was relieved, but hesitated to make any suggestions regarding my quitting because they were all aware of how much driving was part of my life and how important it is to me to be independent.”

Society as a whole, but especially young people, has a stereotypical picture of senior drivers as slow, hesitant, undecided, and the cause of many accidents.

But ICBC statistics prove otherwise.

Data from 2009 shows that in the 16 to 29 age group, 636,380 licensed drivers accounted for 90,880 crashes. In the 70 and older age group, which numbered 297,480 drivers, there were 29,270 accidents. Even making allowances for the discrepancy in the numbers of drivers in each category, seniors still had fewer accidents.

An aging society equates with more drivers who are senior. In Canada, there are currently 2.9 million licensed drivers over age 65, but the over-75-year-old group is growing faster than any other group in the country. With statistics like these, it seems reasonable that the people in charge, instead of encouraging seniors to quit driving and thus becoming a burden to others, should be looking for ways to make it safer and easier for them to stay on the road.

Seniors need their cars, not to go back and forth to a job like younger people, but to shop, keep appointments, visit friends and volunteer. Without careful planning for alternative means of transportation, these everyday activities are difficult.

One B.C. senior driver, Irene Sowinski, 75, took over the wheel when her husband, who always drove, passed away a few years ago. Irene is an example of an older driver who takes every precaution on the road.

“I never make a left turn into traffic at an intersection because I know, statistically, left turns are the main cause of accidents involving seniors,” says Irene. “It is so simple just to drive around the block. I think that becoming dependent on other people is one of the greatest fears seniors have, which makes me a very conscientious driver. I want to drive and keep my independence as long as I possibly can.”

A professional who thinks Irene and other seniors should drive as long as possible is Dr. Holly Tuokko, a Psychology Professor and Director of the Centre for Aging at the University of Victoria.

“Contrary to popular belief, seniors are some of B.C.’s safest drivers in terms of crash rates,” says Dr. Tuokko. “They are cautious drivers, who, for the most part, quit when they realize they no longer drive safely. There are only a few where the heavy hand of the law is needed.”

And Steve Martin, B.C.’s Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, reiterates this sentiment. “Many senior drivers are safe drivers. In fact, we have capable drivers over 100 years old in B.C.” He did, however, add a caveat. “But, as we age, medical conditions that can affect driving are more common.”

Most seniors want to stay behind the steering wheel of their cars as long as possible, but there comes a day - by choice or not - when the car keys are placed on a hook rather than in the ignition. But with a little more patience and planning, they can still get from point A to point B.



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