Here’s What To Expect at a Driving Retest for Seniors | | September 1, 2014 | Lorraine Sommerfield

In April 2014, the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) introduced changes to testing for drivers who reach age 80.

It’s a touchy subject. As our population ages, our idea of what constitutes “old” shifts accordingly. “Old” is always someone who is … older than me. Is it discriminatory to obligate someone who has been driving for 60 years to undergo retesting? No. Just like it’s not discriminatory to not allow 15-year-olds to drive, or 18-year-olds to drink, or 54-year-olds to get a deal at Shoppers Drug Mart on senior’s day (please see your local store for details). We put barriers in place all the time for many reasons.

Driving barriers are usually there for safety reasons. When you’re piloting two tonnes of killing machine, there should be barriers. If you’re a lousy driver and rack up demerit points, you can lose your licence at any age. But the same way most places have adopted a graduated licence for people learning to drive, it makes sense to acknowledge the very act of aging can have an impact on those same skills.

Currently, if you’re 70 and over and have an at-fault collision, you could be required to take the G2 exit road test at a Drive Test facility. This is a strict component of our law; I probably couldn’t pass the G2 test today, and I’d reckon many of you couldn’t, either. Years of driving ingrain some bad habits, and the test forces you all the way back to basics. You’d be amazed at how many laws are changed over the years.

When you hit 80 in Ontario, you will be required to take part in retesting. Melissa Brabant, a Driver Improvement Counsellor at the Central Region of the MTO, walked me through the test. In a conference room setting, you’ll be with about 15 other people (it varies). Your driving record will have already been reviewed. You will do a vision test, in a machine like the one you’ve seen at government licensing offices. You view a video that’s about 45 minutes long that presents some scenarios to start discussion. It talks about new laws and road signs along with tips for older drivers. You’ll explore strengths  that senior drivers have, from experience and judgement and their sense of responsibility, and limitations including changes in vision, loss of flexibility and compromised reaction times.

Finally, the new test addresses cognitive impairment. You will be shown a clock face with a time indicated, which is then taken down. You have five minutes to draw a circle, put in the clock numbers, and have the hands indicate the time. This tests visuospatial ability, how you recognize and organize information.

Next, you’ll be given a sheet containing a block of letters. You have five minutes to cross out all the Hs. This tests psychomotor speed – how fast you can interpret and co-ordinate information. You can view both tests online ahead of time; you can practice. The only difference I found was that the block of letters was much larger than the sample shown online.

Cognitive skills aren’t tested by memorizing information, which is why these tests are so important. Deceptively simple to those with no cognitive impairment, they are instantly revealing of those who are cognitively impaired.

After age 65, 10 per cent of the population will have mild dementia, which can increase the chance of a crash by 4.7 per cent. Adjusted for miles driven, Statistics Canada reveals that drivers over 70 are the second highest group to be involved in a collision, behind only teen males. An even bigger danger? It’s those older drivers who are less likely to have good outcomes. With age comes fragility, and fatality rates are higher than for those males. You may not be involved in a high-speed crash, but your ability to recover even from the small ones is compromised.

Years of research went into the new test, helmed by CANDRIVE, an international association that combines the work of many researchers in many disciplines. Their aim is to keep older drivers driving, safely. The cognitive tests have been used for years in other settings and they present no language barrier. Brabant smiles, telling me when an older gentleman told her he couldn’t do the clock because he was Greek, she told him to “draw me a Greek clock.” She’s also had participants so meticulous that when asked to cross out the Hs on that exercise, they even crossed out the H in “date of birth” at the top of the sheet.

She’s the first to acknowledge that people are nervous and wary when they show up. Some are angry. Some are fearful. Both the ministry and researchers stress this exercise is not about yanking licences, but about keeping seniors driving safely for as long as they can. You could be required to take a road test based on the outcome of this classroom session, or be required to follow-up with your doctor for further medical information. The road test will be the G1 exit test, without highways. There is no charge for these tests.

If you’re 80 and over and facing this retesting every two years, how can you prepare? Brabant suggests being proactive. Get your eyes tested; talk to your physician and pharmacist; ask yourself if you still enjoy driving; consider possible drug interactions, even with herbal supplements; talk to your family members; do a walkaround on your car and honestly address any dings, scrapes and dents you don’t recall getting. Consider this quote from AAA in the U.S.: ”Seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of 7 to 10 years.”

What do I suggest? Book a lesson or two with a qualified instructor at (serving Newmarket and Markham), and find out how you can be a better driver.