Lakehead U study aims to make older drivers safer

Lakehead University teams up with Thunder Bay driving instructor to keep seniors safely on the road for longer.

Thunder Bay university leading multi-city research project across Ontario

Lakehead University is leading a multi-city research study aimed at helping seniors drive safely and stay on the road longer.  

The university's Centre for Research on Safe Driving is working with the University of Ottawa and Western University in London, Ont. to recruit drivers aged 65 and older to test a training program developed by veteran Thunder Bay driving instructor Terry Willie. 

Long-time Thunder Bay driving instructor Terry Willie is working with Lakehead University's Centre for Research on Safe Driving on specialized drivers' training for seniors. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"We're...emphasizing the things that [seniors often] need to really work on," said Willie. "Such things as merging onto the highway, watching their mirrors more [and] blind spot checks."

'Positive approach'

The director of Lakehead University's Centre for Research on Safe Driving, Michel Bedard, said aging often takes a toll on essential driving abilities, including reaction time.

Lakehead University's Michel Bedard hopes the research study will help people over 65 years old to drive more safely and keep their driver's licences for longer. (Supplied)

He said specialized training could help prevent problems before they happen on the road.

"There's a lot of focus on ... identifying who's not safe to drive and pulling their license away," said Bedard. "We'd rather have a positive approach, so we'd like to try to make [seniors] as safe as possible."

He added that having a driver's license is important to seniors trying to maintain their independence. 

"[If] we can give them some kind of training program, we may help them to prolong how long they can drive safely and give them the advantage of [keeping] a driver's license."    

How to participate in the Lakehead University study:

Participants must be 65 years and over, have a G driver's license, speak fluent English and drive at least three times a week. The researchers also require participants to pass a cognitive test.  For more information, contact Cliff Lindeman at Lakehead's Centre for Research on Safe Driving at 807-766-7208 or email

Willie, who has been a driving instructor for more than 20 years, said most seniors never had formal drivers' education.  

"I ask them, 'how did they learn to drive?'," he said. "[They say] 'my dad taught me... [or] I watched other drivers ... and I learned by sheer experience.'"

"So they may not be doing things because they know they're wrong, [it's] just ... nobody's ever told them."

Personalized lessons

The new training program starts by videotaping older drivers in their own cars. Driving instructors like Willie will then go over the footage with the driver and identify mistakes.

Then, they will tailor personalized driving lessons to build the needed skills. 

Lakehead University is currently recruiting drivers to participate in a scientific trial to measure whether the approach actually results in improved driving. 

The results from Lakehead's trial, as well as from similar trials at the University of Ottawa and Western University will be analyzed by an independent researcher at the University of Manitoba. 

If the training program is proven to work, it could be marketed to seniors in the general public. 

Funding for the study is being provided by Auto 21, a national research group.


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