By Kristian Rasmussen
Some valley seniors are fuming about an old-age driving test they feel is unfair.
The local impacts of B.C.’s controversial DriveAble program were heard on April 4th at the Invermere Seniors’ Hall, where Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald met with aging residents to discuss the program.
Under B.C.’s driving regulations, when a driver turns 80 they are sent to their physician and screened to make sure they are fit for the road. If a medical problem is identified, a doctor will prescribe that the senior undergo DriveAble testing, which isn’t available in the Invermere area.
The DriveAble program puts seniors through a series of tests, one of which is a digital screen test that tests drivers’ reaction times by touching options on the screen. There is also a driving test to test both driving and cognitive ability.
Columbia Valley senior George Lucko failed the DriveAble exam in Calgary, and now finds himself unable to do anything that requires driving.
“Today we walked here and have no licence to do any shopping or anything else,” Mr. Lucko said. “Everything is curtailed. We didn’t even go to church at Christmas time,”
Mr. Lucko blames his lack of success with the program partly on the way the test is conducted.
“I wasn’t very familiar with using a computer,” he said.
The program used to bar seniors who failed the computer-based portion of the test from receiving a road test, but it now allows applicants who scored a below passing grade on the computer exam to still be able to be road tested.
Bill Bland, Vice President of Business Development at DriveAble, said the DriveAble program is not exclusively designed for seniors.
“The program was designed for anyone who suffers from a medical impairment that affects their driving outside the range of normal.”
The problem with the DriveAble program for many seniors is the lack of available testing sites in rural B.C.
“For somebody in Revelstoke or Golden the closest location for the screen test and for the driving test was Kelowna. Eventually they added a center in Nelson,” Mr. Macdonald said.
Amid growing concerns regarding accessibility, the DriveAble program will be made available in Cranbrook. Many contest that the problem of location is still yet to be solved.
“If you were thinking of a system to put in place for seniors, wouldn’t it be obvious to you, like any other driver taking a test, that accessibility would be a problem?” asked Mr. Macdonald.
Mr. Bland said that the equipment used in DriveAble is extremely complex, which is why it can’t be made available in every centre.
“This is specialized medical testing. It is like asking, ‘Why don’t you have an MRI in Prince Rupert?’”
Mr. Macdonald questioned why the DriveAble program could not be fashioned in a way similar to graduated licensing.
“Why can they not, once a month, come to Invermere to do the testing? They do the same thing for a 16-year-old trying to get a driver’s test. If you were respectful of seniors, you would figure out a way to do this that was as easy as possible.”
Mr. Bland said he understands Macdonald’s complaint about the limited testing facilities but doesn’t think demand will surface.
“I understand access, but if only five people use the service a month it doesn’t make sense.”
Mr. Bland said that he has tested thousands of drivers without complaints.
“This is something that has been drummed up as a motive for other issues. We are trying to help people maintain their licenses. In Japan, if you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s your license is gone. There is no retesting,” said Mr.Bland.
The DriveAble software was primarily designed with safety as a paramount concern according to Mr.Bland.
“I don’t want my son or daughter killed by a medically at-risk driver. If you are driving, and you shouldn’t be, you are affecting families,”
Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, Shirley Bond,was unable for comment at press time. Her office website maintains that out of 3.1 million B.C. drivers only 1,500 have been referred to the DriveAble program.