Driving retirement programs

Making the decision to stop driving, for many people, is a major life event.

Seniors who give up driving can face depression, isolation and increased health problems.

For many, driving is a way of life; it is a status symbol.

The car gives freedom. It represents independence.

So getting people to talk about driving retirement isn’t easy.

Beth George, Bridgewater RCMP’s Senior Safety Program Coordinator, who organizes her local seniors driving programs, tried to plan a seminar specifically to help people understand Nova Scotia’s medical assessment system and the local options available for driving retirement.

But this year, not one person signed up.

“It’s like talking about incest,” she said. “Nobody wants to talk about it.”

It’s along the same lines of having that conversation with your kids before they start driving about how you can’t drink and drive, she said – except at the opposite end.

“There’s very few of us who will drive right to the end of our days,” she said.

She wants to get people talking and planning for it before they no longer have a choice.

Different associations and groups across the country have called for reverse graduated licensing systems – to limit people of a certain age from driving at night or on large highways. There have been public discussions about mandatory retirement as well, but people age in different ways at different times, making a universal solution difficult.

Based on the results of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, warnings about driving from physicians have an impact, but it comes at a cost.

A study found that a warning resulted in a 45 per cent decrease in patient visits to the emergency room from a car collision, but increased the amount of visits to the emergency room for depression-related reasons and fewer visits to the doctor.

Some provinces have driving retirement resources, but few have regimented programs. Some have even experimented with implementing incentives for doctors to counsel patients, such as Ontario, which gave physicians a nearly $40 fee for counseling a patient they’re concerned about and reporting them to the RMV.

Ontario is the only province to have a mandatory education program for older drivers, along with cognitive-based screening for people renewing their license starting at age 80. The class includes topics such as high-risk driving situations, driving safety checklists, and good practices to maintain safe driving, as well as specific information about the effects of aging on driving, and driving alternatives.

A group of people on Prince Edward Island recently developed a program, called SPIRIT, in partnership with the provincial motor vehicles branch, to help get people talking about driving retirement.

For now, the program developed a pamphlet that will be put through the highway safety offices across the province, but the group would like to take it directly to local seniors groups, said Mary Brodersen, the program’s ambassador.

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