(Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct references to the Ministry of Justice, referred to as the Ministry of Transportation in its initial online and print publication.)
The late model silver Hyundai Accent sits in her driveway, serving as a constant reminder that Tilley Kaye is no longer allowed to drive.
Kaye is yet another senior who has fallen victim to the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles’ DriveAble program, a combination of verbal and driving exams designed to take cognitively impaired drivers off the road. Tests are intended to assess memory, attention, reaction time and judgment.
“For nearly a year my car has been sitting there, insured,” she said.
Sitting in her cozy, tidy mobile home, Kaye sorts through the stacks of paperwork she has amassed as she struggles to find a way to get back behind the wheel. She is quick to pull names from her memory and shows no obvious signs of having a brain that is slowing down.
“I’m a bum now,” she said. “I have to walk past my own car to beg rides from friends to get around.”
Kaye’s troubles started last year, when her foot slipped off the brake and onto the gas pedal in a Canyon Street parking lot. By the time she came to a stop, the car had driven through a steel railing and across 20th Avenue.
Luckily, no other vehicles were involved and Kaye suffered only some sore ribs.
She made an appointment with her doctor and her life hasn’t been the same since. After diagnosing a broken rib, the physician pulled out some papers and launched into a series of questions. Only afterward did Kaye learn that the questions were part of a cognitive skills test, part of the DriveAble system created by an Edmonton professor and adopted in B.C. by the Ministry of Justice.
The questions aren’t especially difficult, but Kaye said she was in her doctor’s office to have her ribs checked and that she was baffled at the string of questions presented without a word of explanation.
“I thought she was nuts,” she said of her doctor. “I thought she was playing a little kids game. When I left, I told her to shove it.”
Instructions for administering the test specifically direct the tester not to explain the test or its purpose until afterward.
Later, Kaye got a letter telling her she would have to take a driving exam if she wanted to keep her licence.
“I’m not the only one who’s had an accident,” she protests. “They still drive. I didn’t kill anyone.”
Eventually, she was scheduled for a driving exam. In Nelson.
“A friend drove me over in my car, but I wasn’t allowed to use it,” Kaye recalled. “I’ve never driven in Nelson in my life. Uphill, downhill, in the pouring rain.
“When the test was over I asked the examiner how I did. ‘You drive too slow,’ he said. DriveAble is crooked in every way.”
Kaye has worked doggedly since turning her licence over to ICBC. She’s “fired” her doctor and had another local physician administer his own cognitive test. She passed with flying colours.
The Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles’ response was that she can only retake the driving test if her doctor can show what health conditions have improved.
“There was nothing wrong with me in the first place,” she said. “How am I supposed to improve?”
Kaye has contacted her MLA’s office.
“Michelle Mungall said she can’t change DriveAble alone,” she said.
She’s unloaded her frustrations on Regional District of Central Kootenay Area B director John Kettle, who says the process is unfair and must be changed.
“I wonder if it isn’t illegal for doctors to administer these tests without a patient’s consent,” Kettle said. “And making Creston Valley residents, especially seniors, drive to Nelson for a road test is ridiculous. I spend a lot of time in Nelson and even I hate driving there. This is a bad system and it needs to be changed. We need to treat our seniors with more respect than this DriveAble system does.”
Nelson-Creston Liberal candidate Greg Garbula agrees that the system is unfair.
“I think that the process will need to be identified and made sure that it is fair for all communities,” he said. “And if the doctors are administering the initial test of cognizance, that it is given with total understanding of the consequence.”
Kaye said that as a senior, she doesn’t drive a lot, and never takes trips of any distance.
“The furthest I ever go is to Porthill to buy gas,” she said. “Mostly, it’s to run errands, do my grocery shopping and visit friends.”
She takes the same, familiar routes on those short trips, and is certain that she is not a danger on the road and that her accident could have happened to anyone. Her sense of humour remains intact, despite the frustrations of the past year.
“Now I am catching rides with a 90-year-old lady,” she laughs.
Does she feel like her driving days are over? She sifts through her collection of correspondence and talks of plans to meet with anyone who might be able to help with her situation.
“I am not giving up,” she said.