Manitoba

Researchers follow senior drivers to better track their skills on the road

In less than two decades, the Canadian government says seniors will make up nearly a quarter of our population. Many of them will hold a valid drivers licence. Local researchers are looking at what that might mean for safety on our roads.

Study looks to help doctors determine when it's time to take away patients' keys

Researchers at the Centre on Aging at the University of Manitoba are studying drivers 70 and older to get a better indication of their skill on the roads.

René Bazinet, 76, is a working consultant who is not even thinking about giving up the keys to his car.

He's not opposed to re-assessing his driving skills later, but he doesn't think age has anything to do with his ability to drive.

"Perhaps there ought to be some form of testing at a certain point to see physically, mentally, emotionally [if] someone is able to do it, but some drivers are better at my age than at 40 or 50," says Bazinet.

In less than two decades, the Canadian government says seniors will make up nearly a quarter of our population — and many of them will be driving. 

Researchers at the Centre on Aging at the University of Manitoba and elsewhere are studying drivers 70 and older to get a better indication of their skill on the roads.

The Candrive study has been following seniors' driving habits since 2009. With 928 participants across Canada and another 302 in New Zealand and Australia, the study's main focus is to develop a better screening tool to help doctors identify older drivers who may be unsafe to drive.

"With the Candrive project, we did have devices in people's vehicles, we did look at how far they were driving and we did look at people's risk for collision," says Michelle Porter, director at the Centre on Aging

In the last month there were four cases where drivers between the ages of 75-82 were killed in crashes. The most recent happened Monday when a 75-year-old driver and a 65-year-old passenger were killed after colliding with a train in Headingley.

Manitoba Public Insurance says those incidents are an anomaly though, and not indicative of a trend. MPI said its statistics show that younger drivers between 16-24 are still 2½ time more likely to get into crashes than drivers 65 or older.

Spokesperson for Manitoba Public Insurance, Brian Smiley, says it is not seeing an increase in collisions involving older drivers (CBC News)

"We have no indication it will go up. Over the last decade the numbers have been very flat and very consistent," says MPI spokesperson, Brian Smiley.

Porter agrees with MPI and others who say age isn't an ideal test of how well a person can drive but more research is needed because the number of seniors is growing.

"The 80 or 85-plus is a very fast growing segment of the population, so we know there is going to be more licensed drivers."

The information gathered could also go beyond this study.

"We followed people over several years. We had millions of kilometres of driving data across all of these participants so we will be able to do lots of studies looking at these older drivers. All sorts of things like their medications, conditions, driving patterns, etcetera," says Porter. 

The study is nearing completion and will need to be peer-reviewed before being publicly released, but researchers are already starting conversations with governments about some of the preliminary findings.

One concern, according to Porter, is what happens if older drivers have to give up their licences.

"What are our transportation options for those people? Mobility is highly linked to quality of life and right now, we don't have a lot of good options for people who aren't able to drive," adds Porter.

Porter hopes this study will prompt more discussions on a variety of issues affecting older drivers. The findings of the study are expected to be released sometime in the spring.

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