Alberta seniors have taken their protest against mandatory cognitive testing for 75-year-old drivers to the legislature, but the province’s transportation minister says he won’t change the rules.
Wayne Drysdale said Wednesday he understands the concerns seniors have about losing their licences, but he has to make sure Alberta roads are safe.
“It really affects their lives when they lose their licence — their independence, their ability to get around,” Drysdale said in an interview. “I support them keeping their licences as long as they can, but as minister of transportation, I also have to balance that with safety on the roads.”
He said he won’t repeal the mandatory requirement for seniors to have medical fitness assessments in order to keep their licences beyond age 75.
But he said seniors who balk at controversial tests like Driveable and Simard can ask their doctors to give them other exams to determine their fitness to drive, including a driver examination.
Drysdale said the Alberta Motor Association is also developing another test that may be more acceptable to seniors.
“They are working on a new system, and they’re talking to doctors, and they’re talking to us about it,” he said. “We’ll see what it looks like.”
Ruth Adria of Elder Advocates of Alberta complained to Drysdale about the Driveable and Simard tests during a meeting at the legislature last week, lamenting the high failure rate and $250 cost.
“There’s no correlation between the testing and the ability to drive,” she said.
She said some seniors who failed the tests have since retrieved their licences upon appeal.
She was joined last week by five other seniors, including retired Leduc transport truck driver Gordon Gram, who had to hire a lawyer to get his licence back after discovering a doctor had it suspended.
“I’m sure I am not the only guy,” said Gram, 79.
The seniors were invited to take their concerns to Drysdale at a meeting initiated by Premier Jim Prentice after the issue came up during the PC leadership race.
Leadership rival Ric McIver, the former transportation minister, said earlier this year it was a mistake to force seniors to take a computerized examination when many are unfamiliar with the technology. At a campaign appearance at an Edmonton seniors’ facility on May 28, he vowed to scrap Driveable.
Adria said there’s ample evidence to prove seniors are safe drivers.
“Why is this being done to them? It’s so terrible and it’s so unjust.”
She said she is very disappointed with the minister’s response and has written Prentice to ask for an apology for the abuse seniors are suffering under his government.
“We’re very unhappy,” she said. “It’s outrageous, really. These are our parents and grandparents who are being abused. We haven’t even begun to fight.”
Liberal MLA David Swann, a medical doctor, said he supports the concept of independent assessments of the ability of senior citizens to drive safely, but it needs to be evidence-based, include both physical and cognitive components, and include a road test.
“I would hope that part of the assessment is an in-car practical review of how they are handling driving situations in the real world,” he said. “Without that, I don’t think it’s possible to do a fair assessment of anyone’s ability to drive and be safe.”