Older AZ drivers want more respect for skills from Ont.
February 1, 2003
PEMBROKE, Ont. - Some frustrated truck drivers in this province who have passed the 65-year age mark are giving up and voluntarily downgrading their licences to get around the "hassle" rather than ris...
KEEP ON TRUCKING: Eric Shone, 69, says downgrading his licence helped him keep "working at his favorite business" without having to worry about big-truck regulations.
PEMBROKE, Ont. – Some frustrated truck drivers in this province who have passed the 65-year age mark are giving up and voluntarily downgrading their licences to get around the “hassle” rather than risk losing it altogether under a 26-year-old policy of mandatory annual testing they feel is discriminatory, but at least one is fighting back.
Don Wilson, 68, feels Ontario’s policy requiring AZ-licensed drivers to do annual written and road tests once they turn 65 discriminates against older truck drivers by treating them like new drivers instead of respecting the decades of experience and skills behind the wheel that they have. Wilson has driven a truck since he was 14 and has been an owner/operator, a driver and a driver trainer over the decades.
“To say that my skills in one year or even two years have dropped enough that I shouldn’t be driving a truck, then I shouldn’t be driving a car, either,” he argues.
“Have I become senile since I turned 65 and forgotten everything I’ve been doing for 45 years?” questions George Haywood of Brighton, Ont. “You should be able to keep doing it until a doctor thinks you’re not capable.”
Haywood, 71, is still driving, doing Toronto-Montreal overnight runs for a company that was short on drivers. He has been driving a truck since he was 16 and plans to keep driving “as long as possible.” At press time, he was driving on a temporary licence and was scheduled for a Jan. 28 road test that had been postponed because of a mechanical problem.
Haywood, “a little nauseated” by Ontario’s policy that he also feels is discriminatory, is collecting signatures on a petition against the policy. He’s gathering names “wherever I pull in.”
So far, Haywood has collected about 60 names, he says. He is planning on taking the petition to local MPPs and MPs in eastern Ontario, and also hopes to raise a champion in the industry.
“We need industry companies to support it. We should have the trucking association behind it, too,” Haywood says.
He says the industry is losing many senior drivers when they’re needed to fill gaps for companies in need of drivers, thereby perpetuating the driver shortage.
But Wilson says he finally voluntarily downgraded his licence to D last November out of sheer frustration with Ontario’s policy, “just to get away from the driving test” and end the “hassle.”
“If I lose my A, I’ve lost everything. But I can go in and say I don’t need my A anymore, and I can sign a piece of paper saying I want to downgrade to a D. And hold a D licence for the next five years and not be tested at all.”
And that’s what has Haywood angry. He feels the retesting policy would be more fair if it were applied equally across all commercial licence classes.
Eric Shone, 69, says he agrees with Wilson’s frustration, but he planned 30 years ago to switch to smaller trucks, knowing that he couldn’t fight government regulations once he turned 65.
“I could see the writing on the wall…I thought about it a long time ago, about making a solution so that I could keep in trucking, and it had seemed to be the only way to get around this was to go to smaller trucks.”
Shone, a former gravel hauler with more than five decades of experience behind the wheel, now runs his own oil-delivery business in Markham, Ont.,with a customized one-ton oil truck.
He also hauls gravel loads with a customized three-ton dump truck.
Shone downgraded his licence the day he became 65 “and then my health didn’t matter anymore.” He has high blood pressure. “I’m still able to work at my favorite business without having to worry about all the regulations that apply to big trucks,” he says.
He believes many truck drivers suddenly find themselves up against the wall when they turn 65, because like people in other professions, they don’t think ahead to retirement. “They vaguely talk about something that’s in the future, but when it’s not imminent, they don’t really focus on it.”
Last September, Wilson wrote to Ontario Transportation Minister Norm Sterling about the province’s policy, and didn’t like the answers he received in Sterling’s reply.
“A medical examination is an excellent way to assess the health of an individual. Driver testing is also a valuable tool as it may disclose problems in driving skills that are not revealed through a medical examination,” Sterling wrote in a letter of reply to Wilson.
“In one word, safety,” is the reason why Ontario enforces mandatory annual testing of AZ drivers once they turn 65, explains Bob Nichols, spokesperson for the MTO.
“We’ve seen studies from the Canadian Medical Association that have shown that driving skills tend to deteriorate with age. And it’s been our experience at the ministry that as one gets older, eyesight and physical dexterity are lessened, and it can take longer to respond to potential traffic situations.”
The mandatory annual testing, which has been around since 1977 when Ontario changed its driver licensing system, has “absolutely” helped make Ontario highways the safest in the country, Nichols says.
But when they started phoning other provincial transportation ministries and asking about their requirements for AZ licence renewal at age 65, Wilson and his wife Heather discovered that other provinces don’t have the same stringent requirements.
“It certainly made us feel discriminated against. It’s discriminatory; it’s age profiling,” says Heather Wilson, who says she spent an afternoon working the telephone calling all provinces except Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to ask about their requirements for retaining an AZ licence at age 65.
Haywood and Wilson both say they agree with Ontario’s annual requirement for a medical exam and a vision test, but Haywood says Ontario’s policy disregards a driver’s abstract. “The abstract doesn’t mean a damn thing to the government but companies still want to see your abstract and the number of charges against you,” he says.
Like Ontario, other provinces are coming into line with a national standard on annual medical testing endorsed by the Ottawa-based Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA). The CCMTA, made up of member provincial and federal governments, co-ordinates all areas related to administration, regulation and control of transportation and highway safety.
But there’s no national standard for AZ licence retesting, because each province has its own policy.
Wilf MacDonald, highway safety co-ordinator with the PEI Department of Transportation and Public Works, says his province would only test an older AZ driver if there was something in the driver’s record or a police request that raised a flag and warranted a test, on a case-by-case basis.
“The issue we’ve looked at is that 65 may have been a good number 20 years ago, but people are living to 80-plus now. People’s lifespan has changed, and I think people look after themselves better than they used to,” he says.
“As long as the medical requirements are met on a yearly basis, you’re good to go,” says Don Wilson, driver programs administrator – driver safety programs, at Alberta Transportation. “Most companies do ongoing evaluations of their drivers so it’s almost a double hit (to be tested by the province as well).”
And a Saskatchewan Government Insurance representative told Truck News that testing is “not the norm” and wouldn’t be done “unless there’s reasons.”
But Nichols of the MTO, points out that Ontario isn’t alone in its retesting of older AZ drivers. “Nova Scotia requires the holder of a commercial driver’s licence to file an annual medical report and complete a retest to class starting at age 60, and Quebec has similar requirements.”
Wilson says part of the problem for older AZ-licensed drivers in Ontario once they reach mandatory annual testing age is that they can be passed or failed at the discretion of a much younger tester who may not really know about trucks. He says he failed the first time when he turned 65 but went back to retest “because I’m stubborn.”
“You’re sitting there with this guy who’s two-thirds your age. You definitely don’t want to make a mistake, because you’re s
upposed to be the pro. But all you do, the harder you try, the more the chances are that you’ll make that mistake and all you have to do is make four of them.”
Wilson says Ontario’s policy means AZ drivers with decades of experience can have their livelihoods and entire lives turned upside down at 65 if they fail the test. He says many older drivers who have been on the road for years become intimidated by the very thought of being tested, fail, and then never retry for their licence. Consequently, they’ve lost everything.
“When you drive a truck, you don’t have hobbies, you don’t play golf, you don’t play baseball, you don’t watch hockey games because you’re on the road all the time…I know guys who walk around not knowing what to do with themselves. They could be driving for companies that need drivers for a day, but because they can’t keep their licence, that’s it for them.”