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Car rentals: Age just one factor to consider in fitness to drive

On the Spot: For rental car companies, such factors as illnesses or other medical impairments should be taken into consideration when deciding who is fit to drive.

October 21, 2012|By Catharine Hamm
  • Reuben Munoz / Los Angeles Times
Reuben Munoz / Los Angeles Times (luirjwpd20121019115343/600 )

A reader recently asked about car rental abroad. He was concerned that his age (80) would bar him from renting a car. It does in some countries. But an email from a reader suggested a solution to this dilemma, although this wasn't just any reader.

The email said, "Throughout Canada, you can take the DriveABLE Cognitive Assessment Tool, or DCAT. This is a 45-minute cognitive assessment done on a computer, but it does not require any computer skills to perform. It is administered by a DriveABLE certified member in a physician's office.… I have done over 500 examinations at my office in the Atlanta area."

What was this DCAT thing? As I often do when I'm considering a letter to the editor, I went hunting for information on the company or the product. It was scant, so I turned to the writer, Dr. Robert Bashuk, a neurologist, for more information.

"Here I am as a neurologist," he said, "and I get… people saying, 'I am worried about Daddy driving.' I've been making this driving decision [telling patients they can't drive any longer] for 25 years based on gut feeling. I never had anything concrete that I could make a decision with, so I said to myself, 'I'm going to look this up' and I stumbled across DriveABLE." He's been more than satisfied with the results.

The test results aren't based on age; they are based on whether a driver is cognitively impaired as a result of a medical condition. For some drivers, that would mean an illness or a medication that's preventing them from performing well; often, that situation will improve with the patient's condition or use of another medication. For others, the impairment could result from an illness such as dementia or Alzheimer's that will not reverse itself.

Bill Bland, president of DriveABLE USA, estimates that in North America, there are about 6 million drivers of all ages on the road who are medically at risk. (That doesn't include drivers who are impaired because of drugs or alcohol or other controllable factors that alter behaviors.)

The test grew out of work by researchers at the University of Alberta who sought a scientific approach to assessing fitness to drive. The test is used in Canada and in more than two dozen states.

If the test is more widely accepted for use in the United States, Bashuk thinks it could be a "game changer."

"Older drivers are good drivers," Bashuk said. "They don't speed; they are very safe until they have medical issues that make them unsafe."

It's not age, then, that rental car companies should be considering; it's fitness to drive. Bashuk thinks everyone "over the age of 70 should be tested at least once a year or every two years or after any medical event." Bland thinks drivers should be tested before they're issued their first license and then as medical conditions warrant.

There is no shame in having a medical condition. The only shame is in knowing it and failing to do the right thing, whether that's at the rental car counter, the start of a long road trip or merely going to the grocery store. We'll keep this one on our radar.

Update: There was a lot of buzz during the busy summer travel season about seats and seat assignments. One Burbank couple who bought premium economy tickets to Vietnam were having difficulty getting the seats they wanted on an EVA flight. They logged into the EVA site at the precise moment the Taiwanese airline opened seat selection, and they still could not get the seats they wanted. (They've flown the route so often they knew exactly which seats and none others would do.) The EVA representative had given them a local contact, but still no dice. EVA emailed me after the couple's trip and said they did get the seats they wanted the day of the flight. If you're not as practiced as this couple, consult Seatguru.com to choose a good seat. If you get a crummy seat, go on the airline site 24 hours before your trip to see if you can make a change. If that doesn't work, with fingers crossed, try talking to a human being on the day of the trip.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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