For the past two years, I have been receiving many phone calls and letters about the DriveABLE program. If you are an elderly driver, chances are you’ve heard about this driver screening test or done it already. For those who haven’t, let me provide some background.
Developed by Dr. Allen Dobbs, a University of Alberta professor and a director of the Northern Alberta Regional Geriatric Program’s Neurocognitive Research Unit, DriveABLE is not only a test but also a spin-off company from the U of A.
The test is meant to determine a person’s cognitive abilities and fitness to drive using a computer program. Drivers touch the screen in response to cues and a score is obtained that passes or fails the driver. If a driver fails, they lose their license.
DriveABLE was first introduced in BC in 2005, and then expanded from three to 17 centers in 2010. That same year, guidelines changed for determining driver fitness, now requiring all drivers over 80 years old to be routinely screened for driving ability. When a doctor sends a patient for a driver fitness test, that patient has had only one test available to him or her, and that’s DriveABLE because the Liberals did a single-sourced contract with the company.
Approximately 1,500 people are sent to the DriveABLE test each year and 15 per cent pass the initial assessment. Another 40 per cent fail and lose their license immediately, while the remaining 45 per cent have to take a driving test. If a person wants to take the DriveABLE test again, they have to pay $170 to the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles plus a second round of travel costs.
That’s right, with only 17 test centers, seniors had to pay for their travel costs to take this test and that left seniors in rural areas like ours at a particular disadvantage.
As people began to contact my office as well as my NDP rural colleagues, we started to look into the issue. At our weekly Rural Caucus meetings, we discussed strategies to advocate for changes. Safe roads are paramount, and testing to keep our roads safe needs to be accessible, transparent and fair.
We asked questions in the Legislature, held town hall meetings, and put forward a motion that calls on the government to make testing centres more accessible throughout the province. If you want to see my contribution to the debate on that motion from February 27, please visit my website michellemungall.ca or call my office and we would be happy to send you a transcript.
Because of our advocacy, the Liberals have realized that they need to make changes. Unfortunately, the changes have been minimal. In March, the BC government announced that it will no longer use DriveABLE as the sole determinant for driver fitness. Now it will look at the DriveABLE results, a road test and medical information. There will also be one more testing centre added this May — in Cranbrook.
These changes don’t address all the issues I have heard from local seniors and their families, so I will continue to work with constituents and my colleagues to ensure that tests are fair and more accessible. After all, we’re not just dots on a map. We are communities of real people, and when someone is told to make a major life change, we have to be confident that the change came from an accessible, fair and transparent process.
Michelle Mungall is the Nelson-Creston MLA. Her column is featured in the Star once a month