Older drivers who want to stay behind the wheel longer are looking for measures like refresher courses to help them continue safely, according to a report released in Ottawa on Thursday.

Authors of the National Blueprint for Injury Prevention in Older Drivers heard from seniors across the country and reviewed research on driver retraining before putting together the report. 

'In our focus groups we've had — repeatedly — people tell us that having your licence removed is worse than having a cancer diagnosis.' — Nicol Korner-Bitensky

"They felt that the model in Canada is now punitive," said principal investigator Prof. Nicol Korner-Bitensky, an occupational therapist in the faculty of medicine at McGill.

"And they're nervous and worried about their driving, and about people taking away their licences."

The new voluntary approach proposes placing kiosks to help assess driving abilities in non-threatening places such as shopping malls, instead of assigning drivers to go to hospitals or rehab facilities. 

The blueprint is an initiative of McGill University in Montreal and the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, financially supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Risk increases with age

Driving-related collisions are the leading cause of accidental death among Canadians aged 65 to 75, the group said.

Research showed the risk of motor vehicle collision increased even further when the driver is over 75 years old: a driver over the age of 75 is 3.5 times more likely to be involved in a crash per kilometre driven than a 35- to 40-year-old driver, according to the Canada Safety Council.

The project emphasizes injury prevention through a proactive, "stay sharp" approach to driving, Korner-Bitensky said.

"In our focus groups we've had — repeatedly — people tell us that having your licence removed is worse than having a cancer diagnosis."

Korner-Bitensky added that older drivers can be retrained to:

  • Improve their response times.
  • Improve their visual search abilities, such as determining that when a ball rolls onto the street, a child trying to retrieve the toy is likely to follow.
  • Boost flexibility to turn and see behind them.

The next step in the project includes a day-long meeting to be held on Friday to review the blueprint and develop a strategy to implement it.

It's hoped that insurance companies will offer reduced rates for refresher courses, Korner-Bitensky said.

A recent paper by the Canadian Automobile Association recommended improvements to intersections, signage and lane-change markers to benefit all drivers, including seniors.

The project was launched during the Canada Safety Council's National Safe Driving Week.

With files from the Canadian Press