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Prime: Marking your 80th birthday has implications for driving

Freelancer Hugh Kruzel brings newly-minted octogenarians through what they need to do to stay on the road
Reginald “Rex” Park turned 97 this spring. He successfully completed the in class portion of MTO drivers’ evaluation. Additionally a road test component was required. He passed both with flying colours. Son Daryl Park is definitely proud of his Dad: “Congratulations Dad for showing us that age is no barrier to learning or living life as one wants!”

Let’s turn back the calendar. Sixteen was more than sweet; it symbolized the potential for a newfound freedom. Get a driver’s licence and the world suddenly became much wider.

Fast forward motion, more potent engines, power steering, automatic transmission, paved highways and byways improved each decade. 

In North American society, the car was king. Today we may think differently about the automobile, the fossil fueled economy, and even how long we should be behind the wheel.

If you were a teen in the 1950s or 60s, you are coming to a threshold. Some say it is a cliff. Not exactly Thelma and Louise, but nonetheless it can equate with contraction and a sense of loss for some.

For adults 80 years of age and older, renewing your Ontario driver's licence means you must complete a Senior Driver Group Education Session and vision testing. For some there are additional steps.

So there is naturally some anxiety around the magic 80th birthday. The Ministry of Transport may already have sent you a notification. Do you take the test, or do you hand in your licence? It’s a tough decision, and one some drivers leave to the last moment. A crisis or even an accident can end your privilege abruptly.

Robert Paille, a Sudbury resident, now in his early 70s, says he is not concerned at this moment, but he is aware of the process. 

Testing, he feels, “… is a good thing to do because some don’t realize they should not be driving anymore. It might make them aware of changes in health and ability … before they cause a minor or major accident, or worse. Doctors are also responsible to intervene.” 

Vision issues and slowed reaction times can be compounded by medication. Cognitive impairment is a definite serious challenge.

It isn’t all doom and gloom. We don’t all age the same. In fact, some citizens embody the well-known commercial jingle “you’re not getting older, you’re getting better.”

Daryl Park, another Sudbury citizen, shared a story that proves the point. “My Dad's name is Reginald Park. In Ontario, drivers who reach the age of 80 must complete in-class testing every two years. Dad, who turned 97 this spring, completed the in-class portion successfully. We were surprised when they notified him that he was required to also complete a driver’s road test.

“This can be a daunting task for anyone, let alone a senior his age. Over the years, my father was an excellent driver and had no fender benders that I can recall. Although some bad driving habits did creep in and our city now has a few roundabouts in some of our newer highways. 

“I took dad out a few times to give him some pointers, but recommended driving lessons from a professional instructor. We were able to get lessons for seniors from a local firm, Laurentian Driving School, and a lovely woman, by the name of Cindy, was his instructor.”

Like going to a golf or tennis clinic, we could all do with some reminders and tweaks to improve our behaviours. Park sees the lessons as a key element in his Father’s passing the road test. 

“I honestly have to say that this was the turning point for Dad and he learned a great deal from her (Cindy). Dad’s Drivers’ Road Examiner told me dad was still sharp as a tack, and he passed with flying colours.

“Congratulations Dad for showing us that age is no barrier to learning or living life as one wants!”

If you are turning 80, the following is important information for you. By mail, usually up to 90 days before your licence expiry date, you will receive a renewal application form and a letter explaining the steps required to renew. 

If you will be out of Ontario when your licence expires you may renew your driver’s licence early.

You can watch an educational video – specifically made for the senior driver - before attending the renewal session. Go to this site.

You can review the Official Ministry of Transportation Drivers’ Handbook. It is available in print format at various retailers. You must attend a Senior Driver Group Education session.

You will need to book an appointment at 1-800-396-4233 (toll free). The Contact Centre hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, excluding Statutory Holidays. 

On Mondays, or immediately after a long weekend, you may experience longer than normal wait times.

Many barriers have been overcome by the MTO providing fact sheets in multiple languages (Croatian, Arabic, Farsi, Ojibway, Korean, Polish, OjiCree and Swampy Cree, and Ukrainian to name a few) and if you require any accommodations — like a sign-language interpreter — arrangements can be made.

What must you to bring to the renewal session? Your current driver’s licence and the renewal

application, corrective eyeglasses or contact lenses you use for driving as well as any used for reading and hearing aids, if you use them.

Once at the session, you will have an opportunity to watch the educational video if you were not able to watch it before attending. A complete vision assessment and a 5-minute in-class screening exercise will follow. 

You may be asked to consult with your doctor and submit medical information or provide additional vision information from a doctor or optometrist. This will depend on how well you performed on the in-class screening components, and following a review of your driving record.

If you are good to go, then you will pay the $36 renewal fee at ServiceOntario online or at a

ServiceOntario centre. In person you may to need to bring original identification that shows your legal name, and date of birth.

See this website for a full description of the process.

Hugh Kruzel is a writer in Greater Sudbury. Prime features stories about senior living and the issues impacting seniors in our community. It is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.