Deciding who is allowed to drive and when a driver should have their license revoked is an incredibly important decision that weighs personal freedom against public safety.
It’s a tough job tasked to the B.C. Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles in the Ministry of Justice, who then enlists the assistance of driving programs and medical professionals to carry out assessments that inform their decisions.
Some, like the written and driving tests many of us took at 16, introduce British Columbians to the driving world. Others, like the Driver’s Medical Examination Report and DriveABLE, are used to ensure current drivers are continuing to drive safely.
There are 96,000 drivers over the age of 80 in B.C., according to ICBC’s 2014 statistics. While keeping our streets safe is undoubtedly the priority, ensuring that mandatory tests are respectful, fair and effective is also of utmost importance.
Under the current system, when a driver turns 80 they are required to see their doctor for a Driver’s Medical Examination Report (DMER) every two years. The examination covers a lot of ground, from eyesight to cardiovascular health to assessing the severity, progression, and treatment of any medical conditions that could affect the driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.
This mandatory examination is not covered by provincial health care and usually costs seniors $197 every two years (the fee recommended by the British Columbia Medical Association), but the bill is left to the clinic’s discretion and has been known to range anywhere from $50 to $500. My office called two clinics in my riding; one in Oak Bay charges $105 and another in Gordon Head charges $125.
Given that this is a mandatory test for drivers over the age of 80, and that it must be repeated every two years, I believe the cost should be covered by provincial health care. Seniors who are getting their DMER assessments done regularly are doing their part to ensure our streets stay safe. I do not think that is something they should be financially penalized for.
If a person passes the DMER with flying colours, as we always hope they will, they are free to enjoy another two years of safe driving. If the doctor notices a potential problem during the examination, however, it will be reported to RoadSafetyBC. As the agency that oversees driver licensing, RoadSafetyBC will look at the doctor’s report and determine if the patient is going to lose their license or go for additional testing. When the doctor’s concerns relate to cognitive issues that could interfere with driving abilities, the patient may be instructed to take the DriveABLE examination.
Only a small percentage of seniors who go through the DMER process are referred to DriveABLE, a program developed by a private company based in Alberta. They have had a contract with the B.C. government since 2005 and receive roughly $420 from the province every time someone is tested.
The 60- to 90-minute test is done on a computer and can be daunting to seniors with limited computer or video game experience. If the computer assessment is failed, as it often is, drivers can then request an on-road evaluation to demonstrate their safe driving abilities.
It makes no sense to me that the BC Government is making seniors jump through the costly DriveABLE hoop when they can ultimately appeal a DriveABLE test failure and ask for an on-road evaluation. It strikes me as for more sensible to just dump the DriveABLE screening and go straight to the on road test. Plus, the monies saved by doing so could be used to eliminate the DMER cost to seniors.
Andrew Weaver is LA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head and leader of the provincial Green Party. He writes here twice a month.