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Image of a car driving in winter. (Matt Kryger/AP)
Image of a car driving in winter. (Matt Kryger/AP)

Globe editorial

Better not to snitch on grandpa about his driving Add to ...

Snitching on an aging neighbour or relative about their poor driving is not the most effective way to improve road safety. Sudbury should reconsider a program that targets senior citizens in an effort to get them off the road.

The initiative, known as The North East Dementia Network Coalition Safe Driving Task Force, feeds into negative stereotypes about older drivers. The anonymous tips are funnelled through Crime Stoppers; police follow up by dispatching a plainclothes officer to the home of the offending driver to discuss their performance at the wheel.

There are plenty of drivers out there of every age and description. Why single out seniors? Why not encourage people to report teenagers who drive recklessly, or a person of any age who gets behind the wheel while intoxicated?

Statistics show seniors are less likely to be involved in crashes (in part because they drive less). They are, however, second only to new drivers in their fatality rates, due to their increased frailty. Many older people, especially women, already avoid road trips and busy highways as well as taking out the car during rush hour or at night.

Regulations exist in most parts of Canada requiring doctors to report patients who are likely to be a hazard on the road. Many provinces, including Ontario, require people to undergo medical screening when they reach a certain age, as well as cognitive and written driving tests if necessary. These programs are a less arbitrary way to enhance road safety. Provinces could consider offering remedial driving courses to help older motorists adjust to slower response times and reduced vision. Florida, for example, has larger street signs and enhanced lighting to accommodate its large population of seniors. “I hardly think police should be used for family counselling. If you care enough about your parent, you’re going to have to buck up and be honest with them,” said Susan Eng, vice-president for advocacy at the Canadian Association for Retired People.

As the population ages, the issue of how to assist senior motorists to adapt, and even to plan for life without a car, will become increasingly important. But it is vital to remember that many older people are competent drivers. And if they aren’t, tests and impartial screening by professionals are the best ways to help them accept this. Safety campaigns should be directed at the problem of dangerous driving period, and not advocate snitching on a single demographic.

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