04/02/2012 06:57 EDT | Updated 04/02/2012 06:57 EDT

Graduated Licensing For Canada Seniors Floated By Top Medical Journal


An editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal is calling for a graduated licensing system for the country's seniors.

The editorial says some seniors keep driving despite "substantial physical or mental deterioration that makes them medically unfit to drive."

Many jurisdictions already have graduated licensing in place for young and new drivers.

The editorial didn't outline the specific of restrictions, but author Donald Redelmeier says common restrictions for young drivers include prohibitions on driving around midnight, driving during bad weather and driving after drinking alcohol.

He said some jurisdictions also place limits on young drivers' access to major highways.

Redelmeier, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, suggests a full driver's licence automatically default to a restricted license once seniors reach a certain age — which has yet to be determined.

At that point, he proposes capable senior drivers can gain full driving privileges by getting a physician to certify their good health.

Redelmeier says this reframes the interaction between a senior and their doctor by placing the physician in the positive position of endorsing a full driver's licence rather than taking away privileges.

"The idea here is to preserve licensing during regular daylight hours so that the person can still do their grocery shopping and visit the hardware store and see their grandchildren," Redelmeier says.

The editorial cites a Transport Canada report that says 389 of the 2,209 Canadians who died in vehicle accidents in 2009 were over the age of 65. According to the editorial, that represents "a higher incidence than any other age group and far higher than those half their age."

Ezra Hauer, who has written a commentary in the journal defending older drivers, says more seniors die in fatal crashes because of their frailty, not their ability to drive safely.

He says when looking at all crashes — not just fatal ones — seniors drive just as safely as other drivers.

Hauer says a graduated licensing system would be nothing but age discrimination and restricting driving privileges for elderly Canadians would be a serious blow for some.

With files from CBC News