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Albertan fights for right to drive

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Judy Sutter did not expect she would ever be fighting for her father’s driving licence.
That is, until the day he faced provincial SIMARD MD and the DriveABLE assessments,
when his driving future began to look uncertain.
“Until the day the government took his licence away, dad was able to drive safely and
cleanly for 65 years,” said Sutter, daughter of 82-year-old Gerald Ohrn of Red Deer County.
“One day he had his licence, and the next he didn’t. The most frustrating thing for him was
that he had done nothing wrong, but he still lost his licence.”

Sutter was frustrated with the system and immediately set about fighting to get her father’s
driver’s licence back. It is a fight that is being experienced by many seniors across the
province said the Elder Advocates of Alberta Society (EAAS).

“Dad has farmed his entire life, and without his licence, he would have been unable to continue
his occupation,” said Sutter, noting her parents even considered selling the farm that is
located between the QEII and Highway 2A by Springbrook. “It would have changed his life totally.”

Ohrn’s battle to keep his driver’s licence began when he went to renew his licence in March
and he was immediately put on a path of medical and psychological tests.

“Dad flew through the medical examination except when it came to the SIMARD MD test,” said Sutter.
“The SIMARD MD is supposed to identify cognitively-impaired, medically at-risk drivers, which
my father was definitely not. After receiving a low grade on SIMARD, he was referred for a
pre-driving assessment, the DriveABLE computer-based test which he also did poorly on.”

Sutter noted the SIMARD MD procedure involves short-term memory tasks such as a list of words
the senior has to read. Near the end of the test they have to repeat some of the words back,
while another question asks test takers to name foods at a grocery store.

“My dad was not told he had to remember the words so when he had to repeat some back, he had
forgotten them already. My mom does the shopping, my dad does the farming, so he did not do so
well on that part either,” said Sutter. “There are days even younger drivers would fail the test.”
She added that the DriveABLE test is computer-based and that any senior not computer competent but
fully able to drive well, might fail due to an unfamiliarity with the technology.
“Another roadblock to seniors taking some of these tests is the cost,” said Sutter. “The DriveABLE
test is $250. plus GST which the senior has to pay before they can retry for their licence if they pass.
When my dad’s licence was taken away on March 6, he even had to reapply for a learner’s permit to take
his driver’s test. One driving tester refused to have him in the vehicle because he failed his SIMARD MD.”

According to Alberta Transportion regulations, medicals are required at the ages of 75, 80, and every
two years thereafter, with physicians being able to recommend a driver’s test at any time.

Meanwhile, Ohrn was given a geriatric consultation in early May at the Red Deer Regional Hospital
Centre and the recommendation to Alberta Transportion was that his “driving privileges are to be
reinstated immediately”. Doctors also stated that Ohrn was allowed to continue driving without any restrictions.

“Dad got his learner’s licence without any problem and took his driving test on May 15 and passed,”
said Sutter, noting it took nine weeks of hard work and fights over tests she deemed “inappropriate” to win
the licence back.
Sutter was frustrated with the process and the EAAS agrees with her concerns over senior driving testing.
EAAS states in its literature there appears to be
“little correlation between the testing and ability to drive. We submit that the SIMARD MD and DriveABLE tests
are unreliable determinants of fitness to drive.”

Sutter said she received a July 15 letter from Wayne Drysdale, provincial transportation minister, that
addressed some of her concerns regarding her father’s circumstance.
In his letter, Drysdale stated, “My goal is to find the balance between enhancing the mobility of Albertans
of all ages and ensuring the safety of road users.”
Sutter added Drysdale’s letter provided a link to an official document that outlined driver medical standards,
which she says confirms the SIMARD MD test is not the only test the department of transportation will accept.

“Doctors around the province seem to administer the SIMARD automatically, yet even Drysdale said that
individuals who fail the SIMARD MD test solely, will not lose their licence solely based on the test results,”
said Sutter.

She said she now knows her father did not have to take the SIMARD MD test, which set off their weeks of frustration.
“I learned how to drive in the horse and buggy days,” said Ohrn, who continues to drive his farm machinery and
work his land. “I have my licence back and I’m back to work. I don’t know what I would have done without it.”

Adapted from the Innisfail Province News