DriveABLE safety assessments needed

Provincial Minister of Justice explains rationale behind removing unsafe senior drivers

I recognize the prospect of losing one’s driving privileges can be very upsetting.

For most of us, driving is an important part of maintaining our lifestyle and independence. As we age, it is normal for our driving abilities to change and it’s important to pay attention to these changes.

Government has the responsibility of balancing an individual’s desire to drive with the responsibility to ensure the public safety of all British Columbians. DriveABLE is one of the tools we use to help us make those decisions in a fair and responsible way.

We believe it is the best assessment available to determine a person’s cognitive ability to drive. The DriveABLE assessment is scientifically based and is used not only in B.C., but also in jurisdictions across North America.

I want to assure all British Columbians, especially seniors, that I hear their concerns about DriveABLE. It is clear that as a government, we need to do a better job of explaining the process.

I’ve asked the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles (SMV) to develop an outreach plan that will have staff visit communities across the province to explain driver medical fitness requirements and demonstrate how the DriveABLE assessment works.

At age 80, every driver is asked to complete a driver medical examination with their physician. This is a general medical assessment that examines a person’s medical fitness to drive safely, and it assesses vision, physical abilities and medical conditions that may affect driving.

Only those people who have been identified by a physician as having cognitive issues are referred by the Office of the SMV to DriveABLE. Government pays the full cost of the assessment for any drivers they refer.

It is important to note not all seniors need to take a DriveABLE assessment. In fact, of the nearly half a million drivers over the age of 65 in B.C., only about 1,500 are referred by the SMV each year for a DriveABLE assessment.

The decision to remove a person’s driving privileges is not taken lightly, and in all driver medical fitness decisions, the SMV will consider changes to medical information when making decisions about an individual’s driving status.

Since DriveABLE was introduced in 2005, we’ve expanded from just three locations to 17, to give drivers across the province more convenient access. Mobile units are often deployed to smaller communities, such as Fort St John and Peace River. We continue to look at opportunities to expand services, where required.

Let me clear up some myths about the in-office assessment, which is designed to assess for driving errors associated with cognitive decline, not general driving skill or knowledge of rules of the road.

Although the in-office assessment is presented on a touch-screen monitor, computer knowledge is not required and has no bearing on results. The staff that administers the in-office DriveABLE assessment is trained health-care professionals who guide the driver through the assessment from start to finish.

This government is committed to helping British Columbians better understand the DriveABLE cognitive assessment and the services available to them. I believe we all share the same goal of improving safety for everyone on our roads and highways and we feel the DriveABLE assessment is helping to achieve that.

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Shirley Bond is the Minister of Justice and Attorney General.