In Canada, being able to drive is a significant aspect of independence and freedom for most of us, especially if we don’t live in a community that provides good accessibility to mass transit. It follows that we’d like to hold on to our driver’s licence as long as possible. But sometimes, depending on medical circumstances, there comes a point where continuing to drive may put ourselves and other road users at risk.
In Ontario, the province relies on two programs that will prevent a senior from driving if they have a medical condition that renders them a potentially unsafe driver: a bi-annual driver’s licence screening program; and notification from the person’s physician about a medical condition that impacts driving safety.
Driver’s licence Renewal and Screening for Seniors
For adults 80 years of age and older, there are special requirements for renewing your Ontario driver’s licence and for continuing to drive legally. Ontario drivers are sent a licence renewal form before or on their 80th birthday, and a notification that they must make an appointment at an Ontario Drive Test Centre.
At the Drive Test Centre, you will be asked to undergo the following assessments. And, you will have to complete these same assessments every 2 years, after the age of 80.
- vision test
- driver record review
- group education session (45 minutes in length), which includes two short screening assignments during the class
- road test (only if required)
These assessments during your renewal process typically take about 90 minutes and need to be fulfilled before your driver’s licence will be renewed. After the first three steps are completed, you may be asked to complete a road test and/or provide medical information from your doctor.
You will be given an exact date and time for your appointment. If you miss the appointment, you can reschedule, but are allowed to only miss one time. And, if your appointment is after your driver’s licence has expired, you may request a temporary driver’s permit that will allow you to drive until your driver’s licence renewal is complete. Be sure to bring your current driver’s licence, the renewal form and anything else you might need to complete the assessments, such as glasses or hearing aids.
The Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) has provided information to help seniors update their driving knowledge and successfully complete the above requirements. You can download MTO booklets in several languages at: http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/driver/senior-driver-licence-renewal-program.shtml
Notifying MTO of a Medical Condition
Ontario doctors, nurse practitioners and optometrists are legally required to notify the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) if they believe a patient, including a senior citizen, has a condition that makes them a potentially unsafe driver. Ontario medical professionals typically assess their older patients’ driving ability based on about 100 conditions defined by the Canadian Medical Association.
The Ontario approach differs from B.C. and Alberta where doctors are recommended to use the SIMARD-MD test to assess driving ability. However, many critics believe the test lacks precision and fails many people who are actually fit to drive (which may be one reason why it’s generally not used in Ontario).
Persons who have experienced a seizure are typically reported to the MTO and seizures will result in a suspended driver’s licence, at least temporarily. Other conditions that are often (but not always) reported include: mild dementia; heart attack; diminished eye sight and renal failure, any of which can make it dangerous to drive.
Many seniors voluntarily take driving actions to compensate for the changes in their physical health and cognitive abilities. Compensations include not driving at night, avoiding driving during peak hours, taking only shorter trips and driving at lower speeds. And, these types of changes may help to reduce the risk of a car accident.
Ontario is the only province or state that doesn’t provide restricted driver’s licences for identified senior drivers, who may be marginal with respect to a medical condition that can impact their driving but may not be considered dangerous if they adhere to certain driving limitations. For example, in Alberta, a senior may be given a restricted licence allowing them to drive only during the day or within a specified distance from their home. A restricted licence allows the driver to have continued independence but is intended to reduce the risk of a collision.
How does a Car Accident effect a Senior’s Driver’s Licence?
Once you’re over 70 years of age, if you are at fault in causing a car accident and are given a ticket or convicted of a traffic offence in connection with the collision, then you must pass a series of tests in order to keep your driver’s licence. The tests include a knowledge test, a vision test and a G2 driver’s test.
For additional information on renewing your licence, see https://www.ontario.ca/page/renew-g-drivers-licence-80-years-and-over