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Behind The Wheel

Cognitive testing of older drivers

I am often asked about driver testing, particularly now that some older drivers are being given cognitive testing as part of the mandatory medical evaluation at and after age 80. This is called the SIMARD test and was developed at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. It allows the doctor or their medical staff to quickly and accurately identify people who are having cognitive difficulty that would compromise safe driving.

The first of four parts has the examiner slowly read a list of ten words to the subject. When all the words have been read, the person is asked to repeat as many of those words, in any order. Once completed, the task is done for a second time using the same word list.

Part two is a number conversion exercise. The subject is given a sheet of paper with a column of numbers and asked to write the numbers in words. An example of the task is seeing the number 5 and writing the word five.

The third challenge is to name as many items as possible that are sold in a supermarket within one minute. The maximum score is achieved by mentioning 30 distinct items.

Finally, we return to the word list in part one for the final test. The subject is asked to recall as many of the words read to them in part one as they are able to.

While this may seem trivial to you and me, it gives the medical examiner a proven yardstick to apply to their patients and fairly assess the driver. Many people are able to mask cognitive impairment during a routine medical visit and the SIMARD test helps the doctor be confident of their decision whether or not to recommend further testing and possible driving sanctions.


The author is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. To comment or learn more, please visit


Caveat vendor - window tinting

The Victoria Times Colonist is reporting on a crackdown with regard to tinted windows on vehicles by the local Integrated Road Safety Unit (IRSU). The article quotes a business owner who tells his customers that some window tinting is illegal and that the buyer should beware. What the article fails to touch on is that the vendor should also beware.

The comments posted by readers with the article are entertaining. There are those who realize that tint in the wrong places can be significantly hazardous when it comes time for a driver to identify a low contrast target against a low contrast background. Think pedestrian dressed in dark clothing walking along an unlit road at night. The rest spout less well thought out responses including one about it not being illegal for businesses to install tint where is should not be on your car or truck's windows. They are wrong.

It is an offence under the Motor Vehicle Act for anyone to deliver over to a purchaser for use a motor vehicle, trailer or equipment for them that is not in accordance with this Act and the regulations. A violation of this could cost a business owner $109 if IRSU issues a ticket or could be determined by the court if an appearance notice is issued instead.

Either of those two possibilities would pale in comparison to being found contributively negligent by the courts following a crash. Chances are good that the business has no insurance coverage for such a situation and telling the customer that it is illegal will not provide protection. In fact, it helps to confirm negligence. So, caveat vendor too. One significant judgement could leave you bankrupt and out of the tinting business.


The author is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. To comment or learn more, please visit

Why don't we teach driving in school?

"Will driver education ever be made mandatory?" asks a DriveSmartBC reader. He expressed the opinion that most of what drivers need to know could be taught in the high school classroom. While I would like to see mandatory training I don't think that this could be done well in high schools because of the lack of an opportunity to actually drive under the supervision of a qualified instructor.

The current provincial school curriculum does make provision for driver training related studies from grade 8 onward in Health & Career Education and Career & Personal Planning. ICBC provides course content packages free of charge that the teachers can use in these programs if they choose to. The content in the packages is geared to have students anticipate the consequences of bad choices made while driving and to develop a positive attitude about sharing the road.

Speaking from my own point of view, I learned more in the hours spent behind the wheel with a qualified instructor sitting to my right and providing constant guidance than I did in the classroom. While some of the necessary knowledge could be learned in the classroom, few parents are prepared to provide on road training thoroughly and in proper progression. I suspect that even fewer public schools would be interested in offering this type of instruction.

This leaves us with private driver training schools. They are prepared to do the most comprehensive job of preparing a new driver, but at a price. Should it be mandatory? When ICBC changed the time reduction in the GLP for drivers who took training, enrolment immediately suffered. For the most part, we're clearly not prepared to take training unless there is a tangible benefit. Perhaps it is time for BC to join Quebec and Saskatchewan in making driver training mandatory for new drivers.


The author is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. To comment or learn more, please visit


Officer should have exercised discretion

The subject of an officer using his or her discretion in the issuance of a traffic ticket is often part of the explanation in the discussion forum on the DriveSmartBC website. People asking for assistance in formulating their defence in traffic court often feel that in their case the officer should have given them a warning instead of a ticket. Sometimes I agree with them and sometimes I don't.

This is not surprising as the same situation often exists among police officers discussing the same situation. We all have our own opinions, based on our experiences, about what should and should not be done. We also have to live with the decisions that we make afterward. I regret some tickets that I have written and I regret having not written some as well. I expect that we all try to do our best in the circumstances.

On the driver's side of the equation, they have likely performed the particular behaviour that caught the officer's attention many times. Nothing bad, a collision, near miss or a ticket has resulted, so the action has now become something acceptable as there is no perceived risk involved.

The officer may see if differently because they have seen where this particular behaviour has resulted in significant consequences. Because of this experience, they tend to write the ticket instead of giving the warning. Of course, this puts them at odds with the driver.

A review of both perspectives is available in the traffic courts.


The author is a retired constable with many years of experience in traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit

Read more Behind the Wheel articles


About the author...

Tim Schewe has been writing his column for most of the 20 years in his traffic enforcement service in the RCMP. It was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and now Schewe retired from the Force in January of 2006, but the column became a habit and continues.

E-mail him your questions or concerns: [email protected]


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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