How Old Is Too Old to Have a Valid Driver’s Licence?

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With baby boomers aging, there are a lot of elderly drivers on Canadian roads. According to a recent survey by State Farm Canada, more than a quarter of Canadians want to hold on to their driver’s licence past 85 years of age. It’s important for drivers to be safe on the roads, and our aging population begs the question of how old a person should be before they are required to give up their licence.

Statistics Canada’s 2016 census shows that there are more people aged 65 and over than there are aged 14 and under for the first time in Canadian history. Age doesn’t necessarily have to deem someone an unfit driver, however, as seniors age, they are more likely to develop physical and cognitive infirmities.

The results are in, and the survey by State Farm Canada found that one in ten respondents had been in a collision involving a senior citizen. With that in mind, a whopping 94 per cent of respondents believe that people should speak with senior family members about giving up their licence if they are concerned about their safety.

From the survey, it seems like the age when someone should give up their licence goes on a case-by-case basis, depending on when family members see warning signs that a senior family member is unfit to drive.

While it’s important to have a conversation when a family member is seen as unfit to drive, only two per cent of seniors surveyed said that a family member has had that conversation with them.

This lack of conversation could be dangerous on Canadian roads. In a 2011 report, Transport Canada stated that drivers aged 65 and over represent 17 per cent of fatalities though they only account for 14 per cent of licensed drivers.

Further, the rate of fatalities per distance travelled increases considerably at age 75.

These worrisome statistics highlight the importance of talking to elderly family members when they are no longer fit to drive.

Only 33 per cent of respondents to State Farm Canada's survey say that they have had a conversation with a senior family member about giving up their licence due to concerns about safety. They also say that when those conversations do happen, they don't always go well.

Nearly 80 per cent of those respondents who say they have spoken with a senior family member about giving up their licence said that they faced resistance from the family member.

Giving up your licence is no doubt a difficult decision to make. In fact, there are several factors that keep seniors from giving up their licence. Of those surveyed, 74 per cent said a loss of independence, 12 per cent said a lack of awareness about the warning signs of driving incapacity, six per cent said lack of public transportation, and four per cent said the cost of taxis.

"Canadians are conflicted when it comes to the balance between road safety and the autonomy associated with driving." says John Bordignon, media relations, State Farm Canada. "These are extremely difficult discussions for families to have. When a person is deemed unfit to drive, it can feel like a sudden loss of independence. To make the transition easier, it's important for family members to have supportive conversations early on and explore transportation alternatives over time, so that changes in lifestyle come gradually."

Drivers 65 and over are susceptible to age-related declines in reaction time and mobility, and can be affected by factors such as heart disease, visual impairment, dementia, and impairment due to prescription medication, says the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF).

"When reviewing the evidence, it becomes clear that elderly drivers are overrepresented in fatal and severe crashes due to a variety of factors associated with advancing age", explains Ward Vanlaar. Chief Operating Officer of TIRF. "One solution is identifying health issues that affect driving ability and having conversations with family members about looking for alternatives. Ensuring a senior can continue to drive safely will have positive effects on their quality of life, but there comes a time when it might be safer to let someone else take the wheel."

Twenty-six per cent of Canadian seniors say that they want to hold onto their licence past 85 years of age, according to State Farm Canada.

Whether someone is no longer fit to drive at age 65 or at age 85, the three biggest factors affecting their decision to give up their licence are advice from a medical professional (94 per cent), concerned family members and friends (27 per cent), and a collision (14 per cent).

Perhaps one conversation can save several lives on Canadian roads.

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