Ottawa has pledged $5.5 million to a national study aimed at keeping older drivers with clean records safe and licensed, while taking dangerous drivers off the roadways a lot sooner. ((ICBC))

A national study aims to keep older drivers with clean records safe and licensed, while taking dangerous drivers off the roadways a lot sooner.

The program, nicknamed CanDRIVE, or the Canadian Driving Research Initiative for Vehicular Safety in the Elderly. is led by Dr. Michel Bédard, the Canada Research Chair on Aging and Health.

Far from being a witch hunt designed to rob safe drivers of their licences, the program is aimed at dispelling some of the myths associated with seniors and driving safely.

"The literature supports that some of the safest drivers on the road are older drivers [so] we reject any calls for age-based restrictions on driving," Bédard said.

The program recently received a $5.5-million grant from Ottawa to continue its mandate, and is recruiting 1,000 elderly drivers to participate in the study for the next five years.

An electronic device will be attached to participants cars, measuring the amount and type of driving they do. By tracking physical and mental functions and driving habits, the hope is to develop a written test and screening tool to allow doctors to identify seniors who are safe drivers and those at risk of causing crashes.

The drivers aged 70 and older must come from either Victoria, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa or Montreal.

Growing demographic

By 2020, it's estimated that one in four drivers in Canada will be over age 65.

A similar pilot project in Vernon, B.C., has had some success promoting safe driving practices with older drivers. Road signs throughout the city are bigger, traffic lights are brighter and there are classes on good defensive driving methods.

A separate provincial program restricting seniors to driving only during the day and at a maximum speed of 80 km/h has helped reduce car crashes by 13 per cent.

Joyce Howell, 72, of Toronto is all for any measure that helps keep her safe behind the wheel, and as such has signed up to be a part of the CanDRIVE program.

"If they find something that's happening to me, I consider that not a risk but a benefit for taking me off the road before I hurt me or somebody else," Howell told CBC News.