Thirty Revelstoke seniors came out on Friday to hear MLA Norm Macdonald talk about the province’s controversial DriveABLE assessment, which is being used to determine whether or not elderly people are allowed to continue driving.
DriveABLE is a touch-screen computer program developed by the University of Alberta to help identify a driver’s cognitive abilities. It was spun off into a private company by the university.
In 2010 the rules determining who is fit to drive in B.C. were changed so that when drivers turn 80, they have to take a drivers fitness test every two years to determine if they would still be able to drive.
The first part of the test is a visit to the doctor, who makes a cognitive assessment on whether or not someone is fit to drive. The doctor then contacts the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, who decides if the senior needs to take the DriveABLE test.
“We had not heard of problems with the system that existed, so it was a surprise to us when we heard complaints about a new system called DriveABLE,” said Maconald.
According to the B.C. government, 1,500 of 84,000 drivers over 80 have had to take the test.
The test has been criticized for several reasons. For one, the closest test site to Revelstoke is in Kelowna, meaning seniors have to travel there to take it – and incur the costs of doing so.
“The accessibility issue should have been obvious from the beginning,” said Macdonald.
For another, it requires seniors to take a test using technology they may be unfamiliar with. Macdonald also criticized the test for failing an in-ordinate amount of people. He said a re-test cost $300, which gave the company an incentive to fail people.
He also took the government to task for the way the contract was rewarded. It was a direct offer contract, handed out with a bidding process and the terms have not been revealed.
In March, responding to criticisms, the government announced that the test would be expanded to include a driving component. It also said the system was undergoing peer review and that the government was considering adding mobile testing services.
“We have listened to the concerns expressed by seniors and we are taking action,” said attorney general Shirley Bond at the time. “Our goal is to keep drivers on the road as long as it’s safe to do so, and my staff will continue to look for ways to improve this program”
Following Macdonald’s presentation, several people asked questions. George Cleveland called the test stupid, irresponsible and against civil rights.
“We’re getting harassed because we’re seniors,” he said.
A second man said he took the test and found it very difficult, not because the questions were too hard, but because only four seconds were given to answer a multiple choice question.
Another man asked what could be done to change things. To that, Macdonald encouraged people to write letters to Premier Christy Clark.
When asked what he would do differently if in power, Macdonald said he would have to see what it would take to get out of the contract with DriveABLE. He did suggest issuing licenses that would restrict the when, where, what time and in what conditions someone could drive. Once again, he stressed the test needed to be fair.
“People who aren’t safe on the road shouldn’t be on the road and we have to accept that, but it has to be fair,” said Macdonald.
After the talk, I was told of one local senior who had lost their license due to the test.
“This is a very scary issue,” one senior told me.