In early October of last year, several months before his 80th birthday, North Saanich resident John McLeod received a letter from the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles informing him that as he moved into his ninth decade, he was required to complete a medical examination report to determine whether he was fit to drive.
McLeod turned around and immediately wrote a letter to both Gary Holman, Saanich North and the Islands MLA, and John Horgan, leader of the B.C. NDP.
The reason for his vexation: he believes the mandatory form is an invasion of privacy, a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and age discrimination.
“My contention is it’s an invasion of privacy and a discrimination of an identifiable group,” said McLeod.
“And it’s in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that you’re innocent until proven guilty.”
“They’re assuming you’re guilty of being incapable to drive, but that’s assuming that everybody at a certain age has a medical condition.”
McLeod asserts that seniors are the most law-abiding demographic, and that there are far worse dangers on the road than elderly drivers.
“You get a lot of people who get speeding tickets left right and centre, and they don’t lose their license,” he said.
“Whenever there’s a senior in an accident, (the public) blows it up, but if there’s a drunk driver, you hardly ever hear of it,” he said. “They never say to drunk drivers, ‘unless you join AA and prove that you don’t drink and drive, you can’t have your license.’ They would never put them through the process that they did when I turned 80.”
According to a spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice, the province has been screening aging drivers for potentially dangerous medical conditions since at least 1975, when drivers were required to start submitting medical reports at age 70.
Currently in B.C., the forms are mandatory for drivers who turn 80 and every two years thereafter, drivers who have commercial licenses, drivers with a known medical condition, or drivers who are reported as having a medical condition that may make it unsafe for them to drive.
The Motor Vehicle Act, section 29(b), states that the superintendent may require anyone who has been issued a driver’s licence to be “examined as to the person’s fitness and ability to drive and operate motor vehicles of the category for which he or she is licensed.”
The guidelines for driver fitness, which include questions about cardiovascular and respiratory disorders, vision and hearing, neurological disorders and drug or alcohol use, were developed in partnership with Doctors of B.C. (formerly the British Columbia Medical Association).
In regards to the concern about privacy, the form states that the information is collected under the authority of section 26 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act for the purpose of determining the person’s fitness to drive a motor vehicle.
Another point of contention that McLeod had with the process was the fee for the form.
Not covered by the provincial Medical Services Plan, if doctors choose to charge for the form, patients are responsible for the cost. There is no set fee for the form, though it can range from $80 to $200.
Doctors of B.C. advises that doctors are mandated to reduce or waive the fee for the driver’s medical examination form for patients who are experiencing economic hardship, said the Ministry of Justice spokesperson. But a fixed-income doesn’t necessarily mean ‘hardship.’
McLeod laid out his concerns in his hand-written letter and sent it off to both politicians on Oct. 24 of last year, but weeks went by with no response.
“I never got a reply from them. I should have had a reply from my MLA at least,” said McLeod.
When the Peninsula News Review reached out to both offices, John Horgan stated through a spokesperson at his constituency office in Langford that he had not received McLeod’s letter either to the constituency office, or at his offices as the B.C. NDP leader at the legislature downtown.
Chris McLaren, a constituency assistant at Holman’s office in Sidney, confirmed they had received McLeod’s letter in October, but hadn’t replied to him because, although the office had his address, McLeod hadn’t supplied his phone number.
“I wanted to give him a call, because I did want to speak to him directly,” said McLaren. “We have had some constituents bring it to our attention that they’re concerned about the fee.”
As a result of the Peninsula News Review’s inquiry, McLaren was able to make contact with McLeod last week, but was unable to assuage his concerns.
“We had a good conversation.
“But he’s got a deeper range of issues that he’s concerned about in terms of the discrimination,” said McLaren.
As for the form, McLeod said he did end up filling it out to avoid losing his license, and passed the evaluation without any problems.
“But it cost me $125. The cost is borne by the senior, and as a senior, it’s tough luck,” he said.
“If I was a criminal, I’d be treated with much more respect than I’ve been treated with when I turned 80,” he said.
“(Seniors) have contributed more than any other group to society, and we should be treated with more respect.”