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LETTER: Stats don't back up arbitrary driving exams for seniors

Driver testing for seniors requires more analysis, says one reader.
Data shows senior drivers aren't unsafe, and are arbitrarily singled out for re-taking exams, says reader. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

The article "Senior driving: Safety is the priority," accurately described the testing procedure for older drivers in Alberta. There was the assumption that age-based testing enhances safety, and there was no mention of questions which trouble accident researchers.

Society is best served by evidence-based policy, not by assumptions. The governments of both Saskatchewan and Manitoba have stated that the age-based testing of all older drivers isn't statistically justified. They have better statistics to justify that opinion: their crash statistics end at 85+ while Alberta\'s end at 65+.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan have almost identical crash rates, but Saskatchewan also calculates relative risk. Saskatchewan's SGI statistics for 2018, Driver Factors, shows statistics for a province that doesn\'t have age-based testing. We can see that 22 year olds have a collision rate of 71.88 and a relative risk of 1.42, for 45 year olds the collision rate is 47.96 and the relative risk is 0.95, and for those 85 years of age and over the collision rate is 22.84 and the relative risk is 0.45.

Statistics from provinces that don't have age-based testing should make us wonder if the testing is justified and if the cost of testing could ever pass a cost-benefit analysis. Those provinces have stated that for the last decade older driver crash rates have remained remarkable flat and consistent. There is no alarming trend.

There is consensus in the research community that there should be testing that targets those who appear to be at high risk in any age category, but most accident researchers are now opposed to age-based testing. Everywhere in the world where there is age-based testing there are fewer seniors driving, identical or slightly higher seniors crash rates, and significantly higher senior pedestrian and cycling fatalities.

Testing every two years is entirely arbitrary. Almost all crashes are caused by fit drivers. Only about one percent of crashes are caused by a medical condition and most of those are caused by conditions that wouldn't have been detected by routine testing, things like a sudden stroke or a sudden heart attack. Testing every two years will do little to reduce those unfortunate events.

The driving test remains the gold standard in the research community, but what does it mean when an older driver fails a driver's test, when our driving schools and our accident researchers estimate that 50% of all drivers would fail a driver's test? A study in England brought in a hundred volunteer drivers of all ages for a driver's test and 75 failed. Obviously, there needs to be more thought about the possibility of remediation.

When we insist on testing every older driver, the tests are so weak and so inaccurate, that proper testing would have to be so extensive that the cost to society would be prohibitive.

Older driver screening is an example of a political measure that intuitively makes sense, but fails to produce the desired benefits. On the contrary, on a system level, it decreases the overall safety and is connected to various direct and indirect costs.

Bill Bears
Maple Ridge, BC