By Brian Lee
There’s a lot of talk about seniors these days. As public officials scramble to prepare for the coming health care "burden," they’re also busy legislating new testing requirements to ensure their driving habits don’t imperil others in the meantime. What will it mean for our community, a place without transit or taxi service, if many of our seniors suddenly find themselves without a driver’s licence?
I’ve often wondered why this place became so popular with older folk. Sure, it’s a pretty place to spend your quiet years but the geography is rugged and services are slim. Many of the retirees in my neighbourhood own steep, rocky properties with driveways like ski runs. And if they can manage to make it to Francis Peninsula Road, it gets even more dangerous — no shoulders and plenty of hills and blind corners. Much of Area A is similarly hostile to pedestrians or those using mobility aids like scooters.
I’d already started writing this rant when, yesterday, I was driving up the steep hill just before the Pender Harbour Health Centre. I slowed to pass an elderly woman making an awkward attempt to shuffle into the debris off to the side of the pavement. She seemed to be having some trouble so I checked back in my mirror only to see her stumble and almost fall. Twice. I assumed she was making the short walk from her home to the health centre but even that proved difficult. This is a problem that is mathematically guaranteed to get worse. We face a conundrum — forcing aging seniors out of their cars is safer for others but more dangerous for them.
I think most can appreciate why the legislation is needed. More than once, I’ve felt like getting out of the car and performing a "citizen’s licence confiscation" myself when following a confused driver take five minutes to navigate through the Madeira Park Shopping Centre in her scraped and dented Taurus. But how do we ensure the community members who fail their tests are still able to access their health needs?
Without a safety net of family members living nearby, it could pose serious health consequences. Health service providers will confirm they often come across seniors suffering from health and nutritional problems simply because they are unable to get to pharmacies or grocery stores on their own. Much of the onus for determining a senior’s fitness to operate a car falls on physicians. According to the BC Medical Association’s Guide for Physicians in Determining Fitness to Drive a Motor Vehicle, BC drivers are required to have a medical examination and submit a medical report at ages 75, 80 and every two years thereafter. But even before then, physicians are legally obligated to make a report to the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles if a patient "continues to drive a motor vehicle after being warned of the danger."
So I wonder if, in their zeal to do the right thing, lawmakers considered the impact these requirements would have on rural areas in BC. Shouldn’t ensuring there is alternative transportation or safe pedestrian access for our elderly who lose their licenses be part of that package?
It’s just one item that should come up when MLA Nick Simons arrives to discuss this topic at the Pender Harbour Legion on April 10. Come out.