Published December 7, 2023

Ontario considering enhanced road test for drivers over 80: auditor general report

By Allison Jones in Toronto

Ontario is considering introducing an enhanced road test for drivers over 80 years old, and is looking at how to better deter stunt driving.

The annual report this week from Nick Stavropoulos, the province's acting auditor general, details some concerns about the testing and training to which certain drivers are subjected, and reveals that the Ministry of Transportation is reviewing some of those rules.

Ontario drivers have to renew their licence every two years after they turn 80, and that renewal process involves attending a senior driver education session, which involves a vision test and having to draw a clock, which measures cognitive abilities.

"However, the test does not examine motor function and co-ordination, concentration, hearing ability, and spatial perception and reaction time," Stavropoulos wrote.

The ministry did research in 2020 that showed more than one-third of drivers older than 80 who passed the clock-drawing test could not pass a road test, the auditor's report said.

"The research also recommended the introduction of an enhanced road test for elderly drivers, which could combine the driving manoeuvres of a standard highway test with additional scoring to test cognitive abilities related to safe driving," the auditor wrote.

The ministry is considering introducing that in 2026, the report said.

Dakota Brasier, a spokesperson for Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria, said the ministry is reviewing best practices around the licence renewal program and monitoring its effectiveness "to make improvements as needed."

"When it comes to senior driver renewal programs, we have some of the most stringent requirements on record," Brasier wrote in a statement. 

"Ontario is currently the only Canadian jurisdiction that requires drivers aged 80 and over to successfully complete a group education session, including a senior driver education video, cognitive screening test, and a vision test every two years to renew their driver’s license."

Bill VanGorder, chief advocacy and education officer with the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, said drivers should regularly be re-tested throughout their life and the government shouldn't pin it to a specific age.

"It's really ageism to say 80-year-olds shouldn't still be driving necessarily, or are more risk than 70-year-olds or 60-year-olds or 50-year-olds and so on," he said in an interview.

"Taking a person's driver's licence away from them is a huge impact on their feeling of self worth, their feeling of freedom, their mental health, because it really changes their life entirely. So we have to be careful about that."

VanGorder said he would have particular concerns about how it would affect seniors in rural areas, as well as any potential costs older drivers would have to pay to be re-tested. 

The auditor general is also recommending medical assessments for all drivers 80 and older. British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador require them for elderly drivers, the auditor wrote.

The auditor's office did its own analysis and found that drivers 80 and older who passed the clock-drawing test had a lower collision rate than the general driving population, but when they were involved in collisions they were "significantly" more likely to have caused them.

Separately, the auditor found that people who received licence suspensions for dangerous driving have a fatal collision rate six times higher than other drivers, but the ministry isn't requiring them to do retraining.

The ministry requires drivers with two alcohol- or drug-related licence suspensions to complete a remedial program, but rarely requires the same of dangerous drivers, the auditor general wrote.

More than 2,500 drivers received two or more suspensions for offences such as dangerous driving or stunt racing, but the ministry only required 120 of them, or five per cent, to complete courses on driving, the report said.

Several other provinces require retraining programs, the auditor wrote.

The ministry said in its response to the auditor's report that it is doing a review looking at "effective countermeasures against high-risk driving, including driver retraining." 

"Results of this work will be used to determine whether driver retraining should play a greater role in Ontario's demerit point system, and if so, what this training should include," the ministry wrote.

Shelley Spence was named the new permanent auditor general on Wednesday, after the release of Stavropoulos's report.

Banner image:  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2023.

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