The Montreal Gazette (December 6, 2007) - Therapists call for safety strategy on senior driving
posted: Friday, December 14, 2007
Urgent action needed, stats show. Crashes linked to reduced field of vision
By Cheryl Cornacchia
The Gazette (Montreal)
It's a nightmare for older drivers: the four-way stop where pedestrians, oncoming traffic and the need to make a left turn all merge.
With a reduced field of vision, it's easier for a senior motorist to miss the pedestrian approaching from the right or the bicyclist coming from the left.
"There's a direct correlation between older-adult crashes and reduced field of view," said Nicol Korner-Bitensky, an associate professor of physical and occupational therapy at McGill University.
Korner-Bitensky was speaking yesterday for the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists as it called for a national strategy to reduce driving accidents involving seniors.
There are 2.7 million seniors on the road in Canada. That number is expected to double by 2040. The statistics point to an urgent need for action, she said.
In Quebec last year, senior drivers were responsible for more vehicle accidents causing death than any other group on the road, except 16- to 19-year-olds.
In 2006, the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec suspended the licences of 834 senior drivers, while 3,694 gave them up voluntarily.
Although research is in its early stages, preliminary results from several initiatives suggest retraining exercises designed for older motorists can improve their driving abilities, Korner-Bitensky said.
Range of motion, reflexes, decision-making and field of vision can all be improved - and the earlier you start, the better.
"We can work with them and improve their driving ability," she said of the promising results with drivers in their 50s and 60s.
In Montreal, occupational therapists are working with older drivers at the Jewish Rehabilitation Centre, the Constance Lethbridge Rehabilitation Centre and privately, she said. Software can turn an ordinary computer into a simulator that bombards an older driver with road realities known to cause a problem.
There is no provincial or national co-ordination of existing programs, Korner-Bitensky noted, which makes it difficult for older drivers and their families to know where to find help.
Over the next six months, she said, the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, along with the Public Health Agency of Canada, provincial government agencies and seniors associations, will assess the situation with an eye to making retraining more widely available.