CMAJ editorial calls for graduated licences for seniors

An editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal is calling for a graduated licensing system for seniors, saying some keep driving despite "substantial physical or mental" deterioration.

Capable senior drivers could gain full driving privileges with doctor's note

An editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal is proposing graduated drivers licences for seniors. The editorial says graduated licensing programs for young drivers have shown 'surprising effectiveness for preventing motor vehicle crashes.' (Kevin Frayer/Canadian Press)

An editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal is calling for a graduated licensing system for the country's seniors.

The editorial says some seniors keep driving despite "substantial physical or mental deterioration that makes them medically unfit to drive."

Many jurisdictions already have graduated licensing in place for young and new drivers.

The editorial didn't outline the specific of restrictions, but author Donald Redelmeier says common restrictions for young drivers include prohibitions on driving around midnight, driving during bad weather and driving after drinking alcohol.

He said some jurisdictions also place limits on young drivers' access to major highways.

Redelmeier, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, suggests a full driver's licence automatically default to a restricted license once seniors reach a certain age — which has yet to be determined.

At that point, he proposes capable senior drivers can gain full driving privileges by getting a physician to certify their good health.

Redelmeier says this reframes the interaction between a senior and their doctor by placing the physician in the positive position of endorsing a full driver's licence rather than taking away privileges.

"The idea here is to preserve licensing during regular daylight hours so that the person can still do their grocery shopping and visit the hardware store and see their grandchildren," Redelmeier says.

The editorial cites a Transport Canada report that says 389 of the 2,209 Canadians who died in vehicle accidents in 2009 were over the age of 65.  According to the editorial, that represents "a higher incidence than any other age group and far higher than those half their age."

Ezra Hauer, who has written a commentary in the journal defending older drivers, says more seniors die in fatal crashes because of their frailty, not their ability to drive safely.

He says when looking at all crashes — not just fatal ones — seniors drive just as safely as other drivers.

Hauer says a graduated licensing system would be nothing but age discrimination and restricting driving privileges for elderly Canadians would be a serious blow for some.


With files from CBC News