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Senior driving: Safety is the priority

From age 75 and on, seniors face more rigorous screening about keeping a driver's license. Photo: Garry Melnyk

A year has passed since I officially became a senior. A little thicker in the middle and with far less hair than I enjoyed more than four decades ago. But at least I have my health and continue to enjoy many activities, especially driving. But sometimes I wonder, how long will I be able to enjoy this privilege?

In Alberta, you are required by law to report any physical/medical conditions or changes in health that may affect your ability to safely drive a car or truck. Along with doctors, nurse practitioners are now authorized to complete driver medical examination forms, which are sought by some 150,000 Albertans each year needing a commercial driver's licence or update because of age.

Dr. Khaled Hajar of Edmonton has done many senior license renewals. His role comes after Alberta Transportation sends a letter to a senior when they reach age 75. It’s then that person has to have a driver’s medical. Dr. Hajar completes these forms, outlining if the senior has any health issues. If the person is well, they will not have to repeat the process until age eighty. “If there are concerns, I write up a referral with Alberta Able for them to do a computer- initiated test” he said. The outcome of the test will determine how often the senior’s license will be renewed and if there will be restrictions.

The exam focuses on vision, hearing, cognitive abilities and the overall health of an individual. The result might be your health professional recommends a road test or further cognitive or medical testing before completing your driver’s medical. It should be noted that your doctor cannot take away a driver’s license. Only Alberta Transportation, as the Registrar of Motor Vehicle Services, has the authority to cancel or suspend a driver’s license.

"Keeping Albertans safe on our roads is critical," added Dennie Hycha, council president of the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta.

At age 83, Ida Heyden of St. Albert continues to drive, albeit on a limited basis. “When I turned eighty, they sent me a notice about getting my license renewed for only two years,” said Ida. At that time the medical exam turned up no issues with her eyes or cognitive abilities. She continues with no restrictions on her license. “I don’t drive a lot in Edmonton--just St. Albert."

I’m a decade away from having to take a medical exam to retain my Class 5 license. Exams are required for Class 3, 5, 6 and 7 driver’s licenses at age 75, age 80 and every two years after that. Why the concern at ages 75 and 80? Alberta Transportation said some medical conditions and cognitive challenges are more common at certain ages. However, a senior will be evaluated on their ability to drive safely on an individual basis regardless of age.

If a senior’s ability to drive safely is reported, Driver Fitness and Monitoring, part of Alberta Transportation, will use that person’s medical report plus their driving record and road test results to determine the ability to drive safely. Another medical evaluation will check out a senior’s vision, hearing, cognitive abilities and overall health.

Even if it's recommended you complete a road test, Driver Fitness Monitoring will review and determine if the road test is necessary. As a result of the test, a conditional license restricting driving to certain times of the day, locations and distance from your home may be issued. Other conditions may also be applied, such as the need for an annual road test or vision test.

If a senior takes exception when a license is not renewed, there are steps that can be taken. When contacted, Driver Fitness and Monitoring will review the medical report, driving record and road test results to determine the ability to drive safely. In addition, the three-doctor Medical Review Committee may provide advice to the Reviewing Officer who will decide to renew the license, renew with conditions or suspend the license.

The bottom line is doing whatever is necessary to protect the senior behind the wheel and other motorists or pedestrians.