Evaluating the aging driver: when mental abilities are affected, driving competence is always questionable

April 12, 2000

Getting incompetent older drivers off the road has been made easier thanks to a scientif-based test designed by a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta.

Since starting DriveABLE a year and a half ago, Dr. Allen Dobbs, professor emeritus of psychology at the U of A, has tested about 2000 medically-at-risk people for driving competency. Sixty per cent of those have failed the assessment. While it may be difficult to lose a license, Dobbs sees it as taking 1200 unfit drivers off the road.

Traffic fatalities are among the top 10 causes of death but experts predict that if patterns continue at today's rate, the cause could reach number three within a decade.

Dobbs is hoping to change that statistic. He and his colleagues developed the DriveABLE evaluation after seven years of extensive research comparing the errors made by cognitively impaired drivers with those of normal, healthy drivers in the same age group. Examples of errors made by incompetent drivers discovered through his research (and recorded on videotape) show an elderly woman who fails to make a proper left-hand turn and winds up facing oncoming traffic on a busy freeway. Medical conditions such as dementia, stroke, alzheimer's, head injuries and psychiatric disorders can affect driver competence and often those afflicted by the disorders lose insight about when they become dangerous on the road.

Testing is done in two stages: a 40-minute session on a touch-screen, where the computer immediately assesses the answers so no judgement calls are made and; a road test, where the client is accompanied by an evaluator in a dual-braked car, is given in borderline cases.

The standard has been adopted in Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and most recently, Toronto. Several U.S. states and Australia are also interested in his program.

Referrals are accepted from physicians, liscensing authorities, insurance agencies and from private individuals.

University of Alberta

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