Advocacy group calls tests unlawful and unfair

Dorothy4Cognitive assessment tests used to determine seniors' driving abilities are discriminatory, said a seniors' advocacy group in Alberta.

"Seniors are losing their rights and they don't even know what happened," said Ruth Adria, spokesperson for the Elder Advocates of Alberta Society.

Adria has been advocating against cognitive driving tests after receiving many complaints about seniors' licenses being "arbitrarily taken away."

She said when seniors reach the age of 75 in Alberta, they receive a medical examination form. Seniors are instructed to take the form to their physician, Adria said, which could result in them being given a cognitive assessment test.

The assessment is administered by a health care professional to determine if they are mentally able to drive safely, said Dr. Bonnie Dobbs, director of the Medically At-Risk Driver Centre at the University of Alberta.

The test assesses patients on memory, selective attention, divided attention, decision-making, judgment and the ability to manipulate information – all the mental tasks required to drive, Dobbs said.

It was first used in July 2010 in Edmonton, Dobbs said.

"The great uptake from the medical community to me speaks to the need for the screening tool – that physicians really want to make evidence-based decisions regarding fitness to drive.

"It's just proactive screening on their part. It would be like physicians starting to screen for breast cancer."

But not everybody is happy about this test.

Adria said, "There should be no test. There is no lawful right."

She said seniors who receive the form should have a physical exam, and if they are physically fit, their license should be renewed.

"Never mind all these other things," she said.

Dobbs said she has sent letters, made calls and has offered to explain the inaccuracies.

As for the seniors' outrage, Dobbs said people with dementia or other illnesses often aren't able to identify when they are unsafe to drive because the illness impairs their judgment.Dorothy2Dorothy Newfield doesn’t drive, and many seniors believe being denied driving rights by cognitive assessment tests is unfair.
Photo by: Jenica Foster

"The person truly believes that they are still safe to drive. So any attempts by the family or the physician to get them from behind the wheel are often met with resistance," Dobbs said.

DriveABLE

If a physician recommends a driver assessment test, patients will often go to DriveABLE.

Dr. Bonnie Dobb's spouse, Dr. Allen Dobbs created DriveABLE Assessment Centres Inc. in 1998 to aid physicians in deciding whether people with dementia or cognitive impairment should drive.

An in-office DriveABLE cognitive assessment tool requires drivers complete a 30 to 60-minute test on the computer that looks at their reaction time, the ability to focus and shift attention, decision-making and complex judgment, Allen Dobbs said.

He said one of the computer tasks has a set of lines that move down the screen with gaps between them. The individual is instructed to move the box between the lines by pushing a button at the appropriate time – very much like making a left turn at a stoplight.

Adria countered: "Not everybody is computer literate. When they are confronted by DriveABLE, they panic."

However, Allen Dobbs said he made sure the test wasn't prejudiced against people who didn't use the computer. He said the test is presented on a computer but an assessor sits with them, explains what the task is and lets them practice first.

"All they have to do is touch a screen or press a button. If they can touch an X on a piece of paper they can do the task," he said.

Gordon McGuffin, 86, took the DriveABLE in-office test almost two years ago. He said he received 63 per cent. He said his score was neither high enough for his license to be renewed, nor low enough for his license to be revoked.

McGuffin then went on to part two of the test – the DriveABLE on-road evaluation.

Unlike the government road test administered to new drivers, Allen Dobbs said his test focuses on confidence errors, not the rules of the road.

Confidence errors are defined as driving on the wrong side of the road, not stopping at red lights, failure to maintain the position of the vehicle in the lane, and merging without looking – errors that healthy, confident people don't normally do in a driving evaluation, he said.

"The ultimate decision of course comes from (Alberta Transportation's) Driver Fitness and Monitoring (branch). They make all the licensing decisions. We make recommendations to them based on our assessment process."

Allen Dobbs said they make use of multiple sources of information to determine whether an individual is fit to drive, such as recommendations from the physician, recommendations from DriveABLE, and the person's previous driving history.

Again, Adria said she objects to these criteria: "First of all, it is incredible age discrimination. If we are going to have cognitive tests and DriveABLE, then we've got to do this across the board."

But, Allen Dobbs said: "This is not an age issue.

"It is an issue of medical conditions. Granted that as we get older we are more likely to have medical conditions that might lead to impairment, but it's not the age. It's the medical condition."

Meanwhile, McGuffin said he believes spending roughly $200 to get his driver's license renewed is well worth it for a senior. He said his family doctor approved renewing one lady's driver's license and she got into a serious car accident that killed a family of two adults and two children.

"She just killed them all. He said, 'I'm never, ever going to approve a driver's license to somebody without them doing a driver's test,'" McGuffin said.

Adria said she believes these tests are unfair. She said, "If someone were to launch a lawsuit under the charter, it would be found that these things were grossly unfair and even unwarranted."

Also see: Seniors say driving keeps them independent

Also see: My grandfather's rules of the road

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J Valletta 21.07.2014 11:39  
Driver Testing   I am of the understanding that this cognitive test has been dis-continued in Ontario. I believe that was the decision of the courts.  
   
       
judy sutter 04.05.2014 09:18  
cognitive testing for seniors   I agree and many seniors agree that there is nothing wrong with testing a seniors driving ability, however drawing upon my own experience with my father's licence renewal procedure it appears that the current method of testing seniors cognitive abilities is flawed - it doesn't work for everybody. My father is 82 and has driven without incident for nearly sixty years and yet after flunking the Simard Md and the DriveAble test had the good fortune of a second opinion by a team of geriatric specialists. Their test results highly contradicted those of the Simard Md and as the specialist explained there are alternative and more accurate tests available out there to test cognitive ability. BC's MLA Nicholas Simons has called for their provinces Auditor General to review whether the adopted DriveAble method of testing is relevant and worth the big bucks they pay for it…..I say we do the same here in AB.  
   
       
Joe Green 06.01.2014 20:35  
DriveAble is Tests an illegal scam   DriveAble tests are an illegal scam operated by Conservative doctors who are promoting private healthcare with all its unreasonable, unjust, and illegal ramifications.

For starters, these tests violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because the Government is applying them in a discriminatory fashion against seniors. The Provincial Government does have the ability to require a test, but that test must be uniform, it must apply equally to all applicants, and it cannot somehow "augment" a drivers test with bogus "medical assessments" derived from these sorts to computerized "diagnosis" that is made without the direct involvement of a doctor registered to practice medicine.

If the Province wishes to impose a medical requirement for a driver's licence, it can do so, provided however that it administer such a requirement without discrimination to all applications without regard to race, colour, religion, age, or sexual orientation.

End of Story!
 
   
       
Tom 04.10.2013 12:33  
Driver\'s Licenses For the Elderly   Just a $$Grab? It's true, and you could look at all medical related products as a despicable scheme by a company and people just trying to get rich off of elderly or people who are sick. The best way to get rich is to provide something that is cost-effective, useful and needed; people will pay for that, and so will governments. Cognitive testing for driving as noted by G. Plourde above is important and it's an unfortunate reality: no, we're not going to throw anyone over 75 under a bus, but, guess what, you are going to decline in abilities and die. At some point driving won't be in your realm of control like it or not. Prepare for it. But if you're able to drive safely and you're over 75 hey, quit sweatin' the test, you'll do fine!  
   
       
Eric Cummer 30.04.2013 11:59  
Driver\'s Licenses For the Elderly   A retired friend of mine lost his driver's license in Ontario for questionable medical reasons. It broke his heart. What I said to him I will say here. "The only way to determine someone's ability to drive, regardless of that person's age, is with a road test", and doctors have neither the time, the interest nor the knowledge to conduct that test. In my friends case he was told by the ministry here in Ontario that a road test would not be offered to him. Fair? Of course not! What is happening to seniors in this regard is, to say the least, not only unfair but should be declared illegal under current human rights legislation. Look, bring this issue up with your MPP next election, and, if you don't like the answers you are getting, do everything you can to get the bum "kicked out of office".  
   
       
Georges Plourde 16.03.2013 06:10  
Drivers permit   I am 78 and at 75 I was examined by a doctor , it is the law here in Quebec and I did not object , in fact I agree with the testing of all senior citizens . Many years ago I asked my father to give me his license and he did with both of us crying .He was 76 and had high blood pressure and suffered 2 cerebral incidents where he became unconscious . I said to him that I could live with the pain of taking away his license but I could not live if he killed innocent people . I drove him whenever he needed me . I am a retired airline pilot and spent my career teaching safety and renewing pilots licenses in flight simulators with the power to revoke in cases of unsatisfactory performance . That is why in 2011 , 576 people lost their lives in civil aviation and 80% of those were in third world countries while in the same year , more than 35000 people were killed on the roads of America ! One should look at statistics ; young , it is attitude and old , ability !  
   
       
Kathy Ivey 11.03.2013 15:52  
Simard MD / Driveable   Just a $$ grab from the Seniors. Unfair testing that many of all ages can't pass. Yes fair testing for sure on a patient of concern but when they are sending seniors that are in better health than many younger that is ridiculous. Private company wrapped up with physicians trying to make a fortune. Taking advantage of seniors and making them believe Driveable is part of the Government system when it is not. Very UNFAIR TO OUR SENIORS!!!!! We need to ban together and help our Seniors.  
   
       
Ray Zalaski 22.12.2012 08:17  
Renewal of drivers license   You may as well throw all people aged 75 and over under the bus. There will always be accidents and if you look at the age groups that are causing them then you should leave the seniors alone except for an evident impairment. Tell me how many drunk drivers have killed many people and yet there is no competent test for those who drink alcohol including the person who decided to harass the seniors. I for one have driven since I was 16 years old without a blemish on my record and that was with a class 1 licence, I am now 74. It doesn't take memory or computer skills to be competent. For over 35 years I have run a successful business. I am of sound mind and in good health and it would be a travesty of justice if I couldn't pass this intellectual test designed by someone who has no Idea that experience supersedes any thing that could be learned from a test that measures your memory. I totally am opposed to the government taking away my freedom and rights.  
   
       

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