05/22/2013 03:16 EDT | Updated 07/22/2013 05:12 EDT

Mandatory medical test for senior drivers 'arbitrary'

A local seniors' advocate says the mandatory medical testing for 80-year-old drivers needs to be reassessed.

Drivers are not required to have a road test at the age of 80, but they do need to have a medical specific to driving skills conducted by a family doctor. The test assesses both a person's cognitive and physical ability to drive, and has to happen every two years thereafter.

But Bruce Bird, chair of the North Fraser Chapter of the Canadian Association for Retired Persons, told Rick Cluff host of CBC Radio One's The Early Edition that there's an arbitrariness to the test.

He questions why seniors have to have a mandatory medical test when their physicians are already obligated by law to report any medical problems that could affect driving.

"That's what we're really concerned about. It's ageism, pure and simple," said Bird. "The concept of the 80-year-old who has to be checked on driving is an old concept. It's the old thought that people retire, they sit in their rocking chairs, and then they die."

Challenges for aging drivers

ICBC spokesperson Ted Ockenden acknowledges Bird's concerns but says there are many challenges for aging drivers.

"We know we have a demographic that is living longer, but offsetting that is the fact that we have more vehicles on the road than ever, higher speeds, more complex roadways."

Ockenden says any driver can face an additional road test if concerns are raised — if the driver is involved in an accident, for example, has a medical issue or concerns are raised by friends or family — and that testing could happen regardless of age.

ICBC is hosting a presentation in Coquitlam on the testing process for seniors.

The free session runs May 23 from 1 to 3:30 p.m. PT at the Coquitlam Sports and Leisure Center at 633 Poirier Street, Room 2. To register contact Bruce Bird at 778-284-1189.