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Karen Shangguan/The Globe and Mail

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In Ontario, the notice arrives well before your 80th birthday; the dreaded senior’s driving test.

To give the government credit, they want you to pass; they’re not actually testing your driving ability, it’s more the mental side of things but it gets you thinking. You muse about the irony of driving to a driving test and then you pause, “If I fail, how do I get home?”

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As I drove into the parking lot, I had this feeling that someone, doubtless a highly skilled professional who admires skill and flair, was watching me from a one-way window in the classroom so … I back in. Why not cover all the bases? “We saw you backing your car into the parking spot, well done, never seen anyone do that before, why don’t we just give you a pass right now and send you on your way? And, by the way, you look so young what with all that hair.” Maybe I’d hear something like that.

The designated classroom was on the second floor; I take the stairs up (hey, it’s only one floor and a highly skilled professional could be watching). “We saw you climb the stairs, avoiding the long lineup at the elevator, never seen anyone do that before, well done, why don’t we just give you a pass right now and send you on your way? And, by the way, you look so young what with all that hair.”

From outside the door of the designated room I can see that all the waiting-room seats are taken, that’s good, I will stand and again impress those watching me from the one-way window. (By now you know the rationale.)

A young (well, everybody is younger now) woman welcomes us into the classroom. I look around and figure, since I’ve got hair and not pushing a walker, I’ll be okay. A thought forms about 80-year-olds with walkers. How can you drive if you can’t walk? Or maybe that’s it: you’ve giving up on walking so you might as well keep your licence to drive.

But I’m being insensitive; I’m sure you can drive even if you need help walking but I’d like to know how. Maybe their Ontario licence plates should say, “Yours to avoid” instead of “Yours to discover” so I can stay clear of them.

Now, the test. The government wants you to drive, if you’re able, but it wants you to be aware of your limitations. To prove it, the first slide talks about traffic accidents and how we 80-year-olds tend to run into things or get run into more often than any other segment of the population. Nothing gets your attention like a statistic showing that driving is the fastest way for us to land in the hospital.

The first item on the agenda is checking the boxes on the form they mailed us. First question, did your (I’m paraphrasing) eye doctor say you should have glasses to drive? I look around the room. Everyone’s wearing glasses. I can read their minds: “If I check YES will this fail me?” But you quickly realize that if you check NO, they’ll just take off your glasses and you won’t even be able to find the paper let alone check the box.

The next question has the same level of difficulty, did your doctor say you shouldn’t drive? Again, this draws long moments of contemplation, “If I check YES will this fail me?” Everyone figures out checking NO is the safer bet.

I can’t help but look around the room and do a superficial analysis on the driving capability of the attendees. Ignoring myself, I’d immediately flunk half of them. The pallor of the gentleman opposite me, the one who needed help pushing his walker, the one who has his 60-year-old daughter waiting outside with the paddles at the ready, would be generously described as near-death grey. How does he get a pass? How do I avoid him on the highway?

Then I get the eye test. This is a physical test, no more lying. You go one at-a-time so everybody pays attention.

You peer into the device. “Do you see a number?” asks the instructor.

"Yes"

“What’s the number?”

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“125468” You can feel the crowd’s mouths move, memorizing this number.

“Now for the flashing light. Do you see the light flashing?”

"Yes."

“Tell me, is it to your right or left?”

"Left."

Again, everyone is memorizing the answers; the government wouldn’t be that sneaky to switch things up randomly would they?"

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Next person.

“Do you see the number?”

“Yes.”

“What is it?”

“536531”

A collective “Damn!” murmurs across the room.

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Now on to the written test.

The instructor holds up a piece of paper. “When you receive this paper, and please don’t turn it over yet, write your name on the blank side.”

And then it hits you, you’re back in kindergarten.

First off, you will be asked to draw a clock face indicating 10 after 11. And then she shows us what she’s asking for, illustrated on a screen. I wonder, couldn’t anyone with any level of short-term memory, without a clue as to what else might be going on, easily duplicate what was, a second ago, displayed on the screen? Not to mention, we have five minutes to complete this herculean task. Wouldn’t you be a bit concerned if you couldn’t knock this off in, say, 30 seconds?

Now the second test. There are six lines of letters with B’s and E’s and the other letters that look like H’s intermingled with actual H’s. You’re to cross out all the H’s.

My mind flashes back to my childhood: “Well Roger, what did you do in kindergarten today?”

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“We had a test, we had to find all the H’s and cross them out. I got them all!"

“Well done, if your grandpa could have done that he’d be driving today.”

The excruciating edification at the government facility finally ends, the instructor collects the papers and starts to mark them.

The name she calls out first happens to be the man saddled to his walker,

“Congratulations, you passed.”

He can’t stop beaming. It’s like he’s been recognized with a postgraduate degree for solving a challenging problem in quantum mechanics.

Once I find out that I passed, I don’t stick around. I want to beat those that failed out of the parking lot.

Roger Legon lives in Toronto.

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