Brenda Vrkljan, Occupational Therapist and Professor of Rehabilitation Sciences at McMaster University, is passionate about her research with older drivers. Her focus on this topic is driven by the centrality of driving in North America to older adults’ continued sense of freedom and independence.
She is a member of the research team for Candrive (Candrive = Canadian Driving Research Initiative for Vehicular Safety in the Elderly). Within this national research study, Brenda Vrkljan and her colleagues have been tracking health, driving patterns (using GPS devices in participants’ vehicles) and crash/violation records for nearly 1000 Canadian drivers aged 70 and above. According to Vrkljan, the Hamilton sample is composed of 100 men and women ranging in age from 74 to 90. The team will soon be adding cameras to the vehicles to track participants’ behaviour on 30-minute drives in their neighbourhoods.
Vrkljan’s students have prepared this prize-winning three-minute video on the Candrive project aimed at identifying which older drivers are safe on the road and which are not: Video on Older Drivers – Perception versus Reality
As a recent CBC article declares, this driving study could keep seniors on the road longer.
Vrkljan has also identified a clear need to work on age-friendly adaptations for vehicles. In particular, she notes that many seniors are injured getting in and out of cars and that almost half of these incidents involve falls. Universal design features currently available include GPS, back-up cameras, fender beepers. Some wonder if cars specifically designed for older drivers would sell – see the article: Is an ‘older driver vehicle’ the auto industry’s next big thing?
As a volunteer driver for Dundas Community Services, Vrkljan is repeatedly reminded by her riders about how their social participation is constrained by limited access to safe, viable transportation. See this article: My body the car
Driving, Access to Transportation, & Social Participation
In our car-dependent society, a driver’s license is more than permission to drive the roads. The driver’s license is an identity card — badge of competence and certification of inclusion the everyday life of our communities. Loss of the driver’s license threatens our sense of self and our ability to engage in life.
Ongoing research will lead to better assessments of safe driving, better retraining programs, and safer vehicles. However, there will continue to be many of us who must stop driving at some point. No driver in the household can mean loss of connections with others – not only difficulty getting groceries and medications, but also difficulty getting to church/temple, to volunteer activities, to bridge or writing group, to the seniors’ centre, to arts classes, to social events, etc.
We should be thinking and planning for what can we do in our communities to extend the transportation options for those who do not drive.
Community Engagement for Writers
Older adults can support individuals who no longer drive by serving as volunteer drivers and by advocating articulately for elder-friendly Ride programs (e.g., mini-Van service for groceries and appointments, subsidized taxi links to bus routes, car sharing). We can create or join transportation committees for social organizations (including churches/temples) to offer rides to activities. As writers, we can ensure that newsletters for various groups include a contact name for those who need a ride to events. Creating community supports for those who don’t drive is both appropriate social justice and investing in our own future.
What has driving meant to you in different stages of your life? How do you imagine your life when you can no longer drive? How have you made use of public transportation in different stages of your life? How do you imagine using public transportation when you can no longer drive?
Write about these questions and also about the individual cars of your life and special car trips in these stages – childhood, raising kids, trundling grandchildren, ‘cutting back’ years.
Here is my poem about a very important talk in the car with my Dad: Car Talk
Websites on Driving in Later Life
The elderly don’t drive that badly; they’re just the only ones with time to do the speed limit.
~ Jason Love
Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car.
~ E.B. White
Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead.
~ Mac McCleary
Two wrongs don’t make a right, but three lefts do.
~ Jason Love