Driving is a source of pride and identity for Leon LeClerc. He was just nine years old when he and his older brother began buzzing along the rural roads northeast of Edmonton in a McLaughlin Motor Car Company automobile.
“My wife insists that I was born behind the wheel,” he says. “Driving is second nature to me.” At age 84, he still has his Class 5 licence.
An AMA member since the 1950s, Leon has always been serious about driving. “To me it’s an absolute royal privilege,” he says. “It’s not a right. It never has been and never should be.”
In Alberta, that privilege gains some extra conditions when you turn 75. That’s when it becomes necessary to pass a medical exam verifying that your vision, hearing, cognitive ability and overall health continue to allow you to drive safely. Another exam is required at age 80, and every two years after that.
A self-described jack-of-all-trades, Leon drove school and tour buses part-time for 30 years, spent six years driving for the military, and did stints as both a transport-truck driver and driver trainer. But he gave up his Class 2 bus-driving licence when minor vision problems arose (the Class 2 licence has much stricter eyesight requirements than a standard Class 5), and when he began to feel uncomfortable with the idea of operating an 18-wheeler, he then relinquished his Class 3 licence. That proactive nature is what recently brought Leon, his wife Annetta and daughter Renee to AMA to discuss mobility options and undergo an in-vehicle evaluation of his driving skills.
For Leon, involving his family in these matters was essential. Naturally, he values his wife’s support and opinions. And Renee, who lives next door, often accompanies him on drives to informally assess his ability.
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Annetta says it’s important the family communicates openly about Leon’s driving. “We’re supportive in that we say, ‘If you feel safe driving, please do.’ We want him to have his mobility because it’s good for him and it helps us too,” she says.
But if the situation changes, neither she nor Renee is afraid to speak up. “We’re pretty straightforward people. If we see something wacky going on, we’ll say, ‘Hold the phone, we need to readdress this.’”
Not everyone, however, has Leon’s initiative; many people don’t start thinking about their driving until problems arise. Caroline Gee, seniors’ program coordinator at AMA, encourages seniors to be proactive in planning their late-in-life driving journey. This includes taking steps to maintain good health—such as exercising and getting regular eye exams—keeping abreast of the rules of the road, and considering alternatives should a time come when driving is no longer viable. AMA’s varied resources can help facilitate discussion and action at all stages of the journey.
“Our philosophy is that we want people to keep driving for as long as they can, as long as it’s safe for them,” Gee says.
The one-on-one driving evaluation that Leon took with AMA can prove helpful in this regard. It provides drivers with a confidential written report, identifying areas for improvement as well as potential risks. (There is no pass or fail, and the results don’t impact your ability to renew your licence when the time comes.) Sometimes just correcting a bad habit, like learning to look farther ahead down the road, can translate into a few more years behind the wheel.
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And if an evaluation—or provincially mandated medical exam—doesn’t go as hoped? AMA can aid the conversation about transportation alternatives and how a voluntary retirement from driving can be managed by drivers and their families.
Though Leon is still behind the wheel, Annetta has been the primary driver on a few previous occasions, particularly while her husband was recovering from a hip replacement and later from cataract surgery.
And when the time comes that Leon no longer feels he’s fit to drive, he’s prepared to back away. His wife will move to the driver’s seat, and he’ll also begin to use public transportation and taxis.
“Like I said, driving is a privilege,” Leon emphasizes. “But I’m hoping that we can carry on here for some time yet.”
It’s never too late to learn with AMA.
Mature Driver Course: A six-hour class over three days, designed for drivers who want to refresh their driving knowledge and awareness of new technologies and the rules of the road.
Brush-Up Lessons: Two or more in-car hours, customizable to suit your needs. Designed for drivers who want to be proactive about maintaining their driving, or when recommended by a medical professional. AMA members save $16.
Senior Driver In-Vehicle Evaluation: A vision test, questionnaire and confidential assessment of your driving skills with an AMA Driver Education instructor (and, in select locations, an occupational therapist) on a specially designed route. For drivers who want an objective opinion about their skills, or who’ve been referred by a medical professional.
CAA.ca/Seniors: Online resources for older drivers and their family members, drawn from the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists and other expert groups.
HOW TO SAVE
AMA Rewards partners help you save on your driving journey.
Listen up!: Don’t let hearing impairment cause you to miss other vehicles’ aural cues. Book a free Connect Hearing appointment to determine your needs. AMA members get exclusive savings, including savings on hearing technology.
Good looking: An up-to-date eyewear prescription is essential for safe driving. Need new specs? It’s easy to see clearly with member savings of up to 50% on glasses at LensCrafters.
WE’VE GOT YOU COVERED
Visit an AMA centre—on your own or with your family—or call 1-800-642-3810 to talk to us about your senior driving journey. See ama.ab.ca/SeniorDrivers for more information.