When Paul Lea made the decision to stop driving, he knew it was the safest thing for him to do.
“I didn’t want to hurt anybody or myself,” the 63-year-old told CityNews.
After suffering a stroke in 2008, Lea was left with cognitive issues and Vascular Dementia. He never imagined his medical condition would have an impact on his ability to drive, until a year later, when he realized it was no longer safe for him to be on the road.
“I drove maybe 100 feet and backing up was very traumatic,” he explains. “It scared me, just that little bit.”
In January 2009 he permanently gave up driving.
Looking back, he says he wished there was a process in place that could have helped him come to that realization earlier.
“The number of elderly people that are having medical moments while they’re driving, they could all be preventable if only someone had said okay you’ve got to stop driving,” he said.
That’s a growing problem in Toronto, as the city is seeing an increase in seniors involved in fatal collisions.
According to the Toronto Police Traffic Services, 30 per cent of fatal collisions this year alone involved individuals 65 years of age and older.
“Unfortunately, with the aging demographics, it’s becoming more and more dangerous as our abilities to operate motor vehicles are no longer as safe as maybe when we were in our 20s,” said Constable Clint Stibbe.
“The older you are, the slower you move, but also the more vulnerable you are should you be involved in a collision, your body can’t take that kind of impact.”
The city of Toronto estimates that seniors will make up 17 per cent of the population by 2031, and as this demographic continues to grow over the years, Constable Stibbe expects the problem will persist.
He’s encouraging families to start a dialogue and ensure their loved ones in this age group are safe on the roads.
But he knows it’s not an easy conversation to have.
“If they’re not able to drive, especially being elderly, it’s a loss of independence, and it’s devastating.”
Lea knows firsthand that giving up driving can be a tough, but regardless, he says it’s the responsibility of the individual and family members to take action.
“The family has to learn to recognize certain behaviours and then take a firm step and say listen, it may not be safe for you,” he explains. “You might hurt somebody, you might hurt yourself, and so do you want to live with that?”
Although he made the decision to stop driving himself, Lea says the Ministry could be doing more to ensure seniors are safe on the roads.
Currently, Ontario only requires seniors over the age of 80 to go through the Senior Driver’s Licence Renewal Program.
“Ministry data clearly indicates that senior drivers pose an elevated at-fault fatal collision risk compared to other age groups,” the Ministry of Transportation said in a statement to CityNews.
“I think we have a strong system in place currently to make sure that we’re on top of this situation,” Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca said.
The system also includes the Ministry requiring individuals over the age of 70 to undergo license testing if they’re involved in an at-fault collision. Doctors can also intervene and report to the Ministry if they feel their patients’ medical conditions put them at risk on the roads.
But Lea doesn’t fall in any of these age categories. He says the Ministry should be requiring more people to take part in the Driver’s Renewal Program.
“I think first of all, drop the age down to 60, and if there’s any kind of medical episode, the province has to tell the doctors to be more firm and also to report it,” Lea said.
By sharing his story, Lea also hopes more people will take it upon themselves to self-assess their safety on the road and make a decision that’s right for them and others.
“I don’t even think about where I would be today if I didn’t stop driving,” he said.