McDonell petitions on traffic jam of older drivers awaiting tests

John Milne of Long Sault, advocate for the rights of elderly drivers, and MPP Jim McDonell. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

CORNWALL – The province isn’t keeping pace with Ontario’s population of rural octogenarian motorists, but local MPP Jim McDonell is trying to hit the accelerator.

McDonell launched a petition last week calling on the government to fix the “broken system” for testing older drivers who must renew their licences every two years and undergo a specially arranged group education session as part of that process. The sessions are conducted by travelling Ministry of Transportation employees who appear to be in short supply relative to current demand.  

McDonell says he’s intervened on behalf of a number of constituents unable to get through to the ministry number to book a session or who have seen their bookings cancelled without explanation. 

For such older seniors, the situation means the added inconvenience and stress of repeated trips to a Service Ontario counter to pick up temporary driver’s permits, McDonell noted at the Aug. 18 launch of a petition on the issue. Some have had their licences expire after being denied extensions beyond eight weeks.

The MPP and John Milne, president of the Eastern Ontario Stroke Survivors’ Support Group, also argued that the process is too inconvenient and inflexible to begin with, even when it works.

“MTO’s current policies demonstrate complete disregard for seniors’ time, as they are forced to waste half a day, every two years, sitting in a large group in a location of the MTO’s choosing rather than being able to receive this service locally at their convenience” said Milnes, an over-80 driver on hand at McDonell’s Cornwall office.

“They are testing primarily for your cognitive abilities, but every two years, they give you exactly the same thing,” said Milne, describing a series of simple tests involving the selection of letters and recognizing the hands on a clock. There’s also a vision-testing component — different from the machine used to test younger drivers — and an educational video. Milne, who passed the test just a week earlier, observed “What is purpose of giving you something that is replicated and has little or no value?”

The Long Sault resident was recently left with an expired licence at the end of his second extension and initially couldn’t get another until McDonell intervened. He explained the ministry generally won’t issue extensions beyond eight weeks, even though it was the ministry that twice cancelled his mandated sessions.

In that circumstance, “you’re without a licence until they can schedule another session,” said McDonell, criticizing the “bungled” program. “These are problems the province caused.”

“They only have certain dates that they [the testers] come into this region,” he explained. The MPP added there should be enough expertise in the area, between doctors and physiotherapists, to ensure older drivers don’t lose their licences simply because the province is seemingly incapable of assessing them in a timely manner. “The Alexandria stroke centre already works for the province,” he pointed out.

McDonell also criticized the process endured by older drivers singled out for a more in-depth Functional Assessment. They’re “inconvenienced even further,” since that service is not delivered in Cornwall or SD&G, he said. Those affected must travel to Ottawa or Smiths Falls and pay $850 for that sort of assessment. “Their lack of familiarity with the environment is likely to be a significant cause of stress and poor performance on the assessment. Our region has over 100,000 residents and our local hospitals and clinics have the physiotherapists and occupational therapists qualified to carry out a Functional Assessment — what possible excuse could the Government have to deny our residents the convenience of being assessed locally?”  

The petition is available to sign online, or to print and sign in original, at www.jimmcdonellmpp.ca/petitions, as well as in the constituency office at 120 Second St West, Cornwall.

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