The town hall meeting was a sea of grey-haired citizens in Chilliwack Thursday, with some experiencing a profound sense of loss.
It was the loss of driving freedom for some, after decades of safety behind the wheel.
More than 150 people showed up to Tzeachten Hall, and several rose to take the microphone to vent about the controversial DriveABLE program in B.C. and its impact on their lives.
DriveABLE is a tool to identify drivers over 80 whose medical conditions may make it unsafe to for them to drive.
NDP public safety critic Kathy Corrigan told the crowd she and other MLAs had personally taken certain sections of the controversial DriveABLE test to see what it was like — and passed.
“But it wasn’t easy,” said Corrigan, Burnaby-Deer Lake MLA.
Many of the attendees had probing questions and complaints about DriveABLE, administered by the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles.
Only about 15 per cent pass the in-office assessment, and that’s reportedly because the family doctor has already identified some cognitive issues. Another 45 per cent of the results are deemed “inconclusive” and required to take the on-road test.
Several of the speakers who attended said they drove professionally before retirement, and at least one was a pilot. They found out only about 60 per cent of drivers actually pass the on-road portion.
The shock of failing the test and dealing with the life-changing loss of their driver’s licence came up more than once.
“I don’t think anyone in this room would want people who should not be driving to continue to drive,” said Corrigan. “But we want to make sure that the process is fair and that the test is fair.”
She said she’d be taking the stories from Chilliwack and beyond directly to the provincial minister in charge, Justice Minister Shirley Bond, and urged attendees to write their MLAs, the minister and the Superintendent of MV.
Minister Bond has said in relation to DriveABLE that it represents: “the best assessment” they have to determine cognitive ability behind the wheel.
Corrigan said took got a chance to experience part of the on-screen test when a DriveABLE unit was brought into the provincial legislature. Although no specific computer experience is needed according to program administrators, the MLA said computer-related anxiety or stress suffered by some elders is enough to make them “freeze up” when using the touch screen and pushing buttons.
Others described unfamiliarity with Abbotsford roads, or the designated test car, since many come from Chilliwack, Agassiz-Harrison, Hope and further afield.
Testing is always done in an urban setting, which is sometimes challenging for rural dwellers, and if they fail, they can be “stuck” without access to any services.
One attendee came all the way to Chilliwack from Merritt to describe the hardships the testing could create if she lost her licence, living 100 miles from “any place.”
Another felt blindsided by losing his licence.
“When you go into that office you feel very shook up,” said one man after the MLA had spoken. “I didn’t know what was coming. I failed it.”
There were complaints about the high cost of the test, access issues, and the need to for more scientific rigour in developing the test, said Corrigan.
“Fail the test outright, and you’re done,” she said. “There’s no appeal process.”
People can take the test again — but that’s at their own expense, and the OSMV would have to consider granting the licence again.
“I’ve heard from folks who went to one location and failed, and then went to another place and passed,” she said.
Octogenarians who pass, hold onto their licences, and then have to be tested again in two years.
One senior who just turned 80 called it “age discrimination” and said memorizing 10 words, which is part of the test, “has nothing to do with driving!” which elicited a sudden burst of applause from the crowd.
“They’re penalizing the wrong people,” he said.
One attendee in their 60s said they’d fail the test if they had to remember 10 items, and argued it’s unrelated to driving.
“So all these drivers who failed, didn’t really fail the test, the test failed them.”
There should be an appeal process, Corrigan suggested.
NDP Chilliwack-Hope candidate Gwen O’Mahony rose at the meeting to speak on behalf of a resident who took the test and failed.
She held up a photocopy of his test results where the word “impaired” was ticked off, and shared the sense of shame and frustration he said he felt as a result of that medical terminology.
A rep from CBI Health Group of Chilliwack, Nicki Bullock, was in the room to respond to a few concerns. She explained that CBI is one of the service providers contracted for DriveABLE testing, and noted CBI is planning to expand its services to Chilliwack.
“The video portion does need updating,” she acknowledged, which was in response to seniors’ criticism about the screen visibility.
Making use of practice sessions before taking the test is highly encouraged, and bringing someone with them is recommended. Take the time to practise.
“Do not feel rushed,” Bullock said. “We’d love for people to schedule a time to come in for a session. We don’t want to be the bad guys.”
Corrigan advised people to express their concerns in writing to their MLA, to Justice Minister Shirley Bond and to the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles.
A member of the Council of Senior Citizens Organizations of British Columbia was in attendance at the town hall meeting, explaining the senior advocacy work they have been doing.
“What a horrible message we give our seniors with this,” said COSCO BC Director Lorraine Logan. The group will be meeting shortly with the Superintendent of MV and to urge them at least to make the process more respectful.