(File photo)

(File photo)

Qualicum Beach resident calls driving exams for seniors aged 80 and up ‘unfair’

Protest being planned for when COVID-19 pandemic restrictions lifted

A Qualicum Beach resident believes B.C. exams for drivers aged 80 and up to be unfair.

With Parksville Qualicum Beach having one of the oldest demographics in Canada, Judy Southern, who has been involved with the Qualicum Beach Senior’s Activities Centre for nearly 20 years, said she has heard seniors discuss the “unfairness” of the exams.

“One must arrange an appointment with a doctor… if they have a doctor and then pay for it,” said Southern. “Doctors charge, at their discretion. If one is lucky the doctor knows you well and may not feel that you need a follow-up cognitive test or road test.”

RoadSafetyBC, the B.C. government’s agency responsible for road safety, mandates persons 80 and above to renew their driver’s licence every two years. They are required to get a medical examination report to be completed by their physicians.

The medical report includes checks for cognition, eyesight and overall physical health. Medical Services Plan does not cover the cost of the exam which varies anywhere from $50 and up depending on the physician.

RELATED: B.C. takes new approach to testing older drivers

Those that fail the medical exams, however, may end up having to take the Enhanced Road Assessment to determine whether they are fit to drive. It is free of charge but it takes a 90 minutes to complete and includes a pre-trip vehicle orientation, a 45-minute on-road drive and a post-trip review.

RoadSafetyBC indicated a driver cannot pass or fail an enhanced road assessment. It’s just a process to determine the person’s fitness and ability to drive.

Southern understands that as people age, some cognitive abilities change. She also agrees that all provinces do require a review of a senior’s driving. However, she claimed that British Columbia has the “least humane” and “most expensive” system of any province.

“The road test for seniors is twice as lengthy as for any other age group,” said Southern. “Some seniors who have never had problems driving suffer extreme anxiety at the process – and, sadly, failure is pretty much guaranteed.”

Jason Watson, communications manager for the Public Safety and Solicitor General Communications Office, indicated that RoadSafetyBC’s goal is to allow people to drive for as long as they safely can.

“The primary tool we use to assess driver fitness is the Driver’s Medical Examination Report, which a physician completes,” he said. “Doctors charge a fee for this exam, and they’re entitled to set the amount, which can vary – but Doctors of BC recommends that physicians reduce or waive the fee for patients who are experiencing economic hardship. This has been the approach in British Columbia for at least a decade.”

Watson pointed out not all medical information received from the DMER leads to road testing or further action by the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles.

RoadSafetyBC sends about 70,000 examination reports to drivers 80 and over and statistics every year and data shows that 98 per cent keep their driving privileges.

Parksville resident Dennis Belliveau had a business he sold recently that required him to drive to various locations on Vancouver Island. He is 84 and has had to deal with the RoadSafetyBC mandate. But he doesn’t have any problems with the RoadSafetyBC requirements.

“I’ve have not encountered any challenges at all,” said Belliveau. “The first step of that process is a medical and I have gone through that on both ocassions and had no problems with that. I get a few questions from my doctor. I drive a lot of miles so I have to be very careful. I do 50,000 kilometres a year.”

Belliveau said he reads the ICBC guidelines and driving instruction books to keep himself updated with the latest requirements. He advises other seniors to do it as well.

“I want to make sure I am up to speed on all aspects and the reason I pay attention to my driver’s licence, my business depends on me to have a valid licence,” said Belliveau. “If I don’t have one, my business is dead. I can’t go out. So I can’t afford to lose my driver’s licence at least up until a couple of weeks before I sold the company.”

Belliveau acknowledged there may be some seniors who find the current process difficult. But at this time, he said, he’s had no issues.

Southern wants to collect feedback from the public to help raise this matter with the government.

“You might not be 80 years old right now but someday you will be,” said Southern.

She said there is a plan afoot to gather people on the steps of the Parliament Buildings in Victoria to protest the unfairness to seniors once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

“I replied that I was certain we could add substantial numbers from the (Parksville Qualicum Beach) area,” said Southern.

Feedback or concerns can be emailed to Southern at jnsouthern@shaw.ca.

Currently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Watson said, RoadSafetyBC temporarily stopped issuing routine age-based DMERs on Dec. 16.

“We want to support the ability of medical practitioners to respond to priority medical cases affecting seniors and other during this difficult time.”

Michael.Briones@pqbnews.com

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