Part of the reason is that they have no option, especially outside urban areas, where slightly more over the age of 65 live, and public transportation alternatives don’t exist.
Last week Statistics Canada reported three-quarters of Canadians 65 and older surveyed in a 2009 Canadian Community Health Study, still had a driver’s licence. More than two-thirds also said their car remains their main form of transportation.
In every province, a majority of men (67 per cent) aged 85 or over hold a driver’s licence and continue to drive, although far fewer women that age (just 25 per cent) do so.
The highest numbers of those still driving at these advanced ages were found in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Hearing and seeing
Most older drivers appear to be safe and capable. The study also surveyed for persons’ functional capacity to drive, and from self-reported data on visual and hearing abilities, ranked most seniors with drivers licences to be exhibiting good or very good visual and auditory and cognitive abilities.
However, the study also notes some report that while not seeing well enough to read a newspaper or recognize someone across the street, they continue to drive.
In 2009, 28 per cent of those age 65 or older, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia, also had a driver’s licence and reported continuing to drive.
Elderly women are least likely to still be driving. The study showed just 25 per cent of women over 85 still have a driver’s licence, with 18 per cent reporting using their private vehicle as their main form of transport. Researchers of seniors’ driving habits say the gender gap reflects an older generation’s driving habits, such as letting the husband drive.
The gap also narrows among younger seniors; just six per cent of women between 45 and 54 did not possess a licence.
The report suggests public policy-makers should be paying attention to the seniors who don’t drive. Just six per cent of those age 65 to 84 report using transit or taxis as their primary means of transportation, and only three per cent walk or ride a bicycle.
That’s partly because seniors tend to live in rural or low-density residential neighbourhoods where public transport is virtually non-existent.
Fourteen per cent of women over age 65 reported they needed help getting to places they couldn’t walk to, and that their lack of transportation makes it more difficult to age at home.
Those who can’t get around face the prospect of more social isolation. The study noted that nearly three-quarters of those still driving got out somewhere in the past week, compared to less than half of those relying on some other form of transit.
A Manitoba researcher overseeing an online study, Candrive (www.candrive.ca), exploring ways to extend the length of time older drivers can continue to drive, says this lack of transportation alternatives is a key and emerging issue for Canada’s aging society.
As more of us age there are bound to be many more who can’t or who choose not to drive. Policy-makers will have to find ways to address their needs, says Michelle Porter, a University of Manitoba professor in kinesiology and recreation management.
This need for options will become critical if and when more mandatory, age-based screening is introduced.
“I think that’s one of the real looming issues,” Porter said. “If you’re going to have more screening programs, then you absolutely need to have more alternatives for transportation. Hopefully, governments will start taking a better look at this and putting in place things that will take care of the needs of seniors. We really need to be thinking about providing alternatives to private vehicle.”
The study used data from the Canadian Community Health Survey — Healthy Aging (CCHS) and was conducted in 2008 and 2009. The target population consisted of people aged 45 and over living in occupied private dwellings in the 10 provinces. Seniors living in residences or institutions were not included in the survey.