03/25/2012 06:30 EDT | Updated 05/25/2012 05:12 EDT

B.C. spends almost $1M on seniors' road tests

British Columbia's Superintendent of Motor Vehicles is defending its decision to pay a private company and its contractors almost $1 million a year to give road tests to B.C. seniors instead of having in-house examiners do the job.

In B.C., drivers over the age of 80 must take a screening test with their physician every two years. If they fail, they are required to take tests through private company DriveABLE.

The cognitive testing offered by DriveABLE was initially limited to a computer-based assessment. But after complaints by seniors, the provincial government recently expanded the company's contract to include road testing.

Assistant superintendent Stephanie Melvin said it expects to pay DriveABLE and its private contractors up to $850,000 over the next year for the tests. She defended the office's decision not to put the deal out for public tender.

"It's the only available, scientifically-validated tool for helping to evaluate cognitive ability as related to driving," she said.

Melvin said the road test by DriveABLE includes conditions in which cognition and reaction times are tested, and that these can't be replicated during a regular road test.

The company uses cars that are equipped with brakes for the examiners, as opposed to regular tests, where the test is taken in the driver's car, she added.