NEWS - Older Drivers
OTTAWA, Apr. 2, 2008 /CNW/ – A new poll by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) reveals that Canadians are only moderately concerned about elderly drivers as a safety issue. “We expected more Canadians to be concerned, particularly as the population of elderly drivers is growing and will double in the next 25 years,” says Ward Vanlaar, a research scientist for TIRF. “With this upward trend, issues related to the road safety of elderly drivers will become more prevalent.”
There are nearly three million elderly drivers in Canada, but as the baby boomers age, this figure will increase to six million within 25 years – meaning one in four drivers will be a senior. Seniors aged 65 or more account for the second-largest proportion of road deaths – second only to 15- to 24-year-olds. Drivers aged 80 and older are at an even greater risk; their fatality rate is 1.5 times higher than that of teenagers.
“Several factors contribute to seniors’ elevated crash risk, including age-related declines in motor reflexes and vision,” says Vanlaar. “Other factors like heart disease, stroke, and dementia can also play a role, so seniors must regularly monitor their health.” Vanlaar notes these health factors predispose seniors to crashing more often and that they are less likely to survive such crashes due to their physical frailty.
“Automakers have applied renewed efforts to meeting the mobility needs of an aging population," says Stephen Beatty, managing director of Toyota Canada Inc., and one of several sponsors of the TIRF poll. “A focus on ergonomics, legibility of gauges and controls, visibility for drivers, and the latest in active and passive safety features are examples of equipment that address these needs.”
The TIRF poll also asked Canadians about their level of support for various measures that could benefit elderly drivers. Of several measures proposed, three-quarters of Canadians agreed that elderly drivers should complete training courses to maintain their driving privileges, starting at age 70. Over 70 per cent of Canadians also felt that seniors with driving difficulties should be limited to driving within a 25 km radius of their home.
While favouring these measures, the majority of Canadians did not want to see elderly drivers stripped of their driving privileges if they caused a collision. “Canadians don’t believe elderly drivers should turn in their keys at a certain age,” says Paul Boase, chief of road users at Transport Canada, and a sponsor of the TIRF poll. “Canadians are saying it’s ok for seniors to drive, so long as they can do so safely.”
The reluctance of elderly drivers to change the status quo may also make it more difficult to move forward with new measures. The poll found seniors were least supportive of new training programs and restricted driving measures. “Elderly drivers shouldn’t be excluded from driving just because they are older,” says Vanlaar. “Future policies for elderly drivers will have to balance mobility and safety concerns.” Moving forward, Vanlaar feels now is the time to start preparing to manage the continued growth of the elderly driving population. “It is encouraging to see that Canadian jurisdictions are aware of this situation and are planning ahead,” says Vanlaar.
About the poll: Results of this poll appear in The Road Safety Monitor 2007: Elderly Drivers.