Today, 4.3 million driving licence holders are over the age of 70, while more than 200 drivers around Britain have already celebrated their 100th birthday!
But there are growing concerns that some of these drivers are a danger on the roads, with some campaign groups calling for automatic retesting at 70, or regular medical checks to prove they’re fit to drive.
Norma Stokes (80) was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended, after seriously injuring a group of pupils outside a school when she accidentally put her foot on the accelerator instead of the brake.
Last year Yvonne Moxley called for elderly drivers to be regularly tested after her husband of 46 years was killed by a driver (82) who had glaucoma.
However, older drivers are statistically proven to be safer than youngsters who have just passed their test. It’s a tricky issue. We look at the arguments for and against tightening up controls on older drivers…
A recent survey by specialist insurance provider Rias found that one in five motorists over 50 believe they would fail their driving test if they had to retake it today. However fit and well we may keep, it’s a fact of life that ageing can take its toll on eyesight, reflexes and judgment: all vital faculties that we need behind the wheel.
Worryingly, psychologists at Nottingham Trent University recently found that our ability to process visual images slows down dramatically as we get older, with over-65s taking three times longer to process multiple objects than young people. This means it gets harder to cope with distractions, all of which seriously affects driving ability.
The current system of requiring all motorists over 70 to apply to renew their licence every three years and say whether there are any issues that could affect their drivingisn’t strong enough as it is self-certifying.
Research by Direct Line car insurance reveals more than a million older motorists are currently risking fines and prosecution by failing to disclose medical conditions, maybe because they fear the possibility of having their licence taken away. Meanwhile, the DVLA say that just 1,000 licences are handed in voluntarily every year.
Many people may not realise they have conditions such as diabetes, heart issues or physical disabilities that affect their driving. Drivers with dementia, too, are potentially dangerous on the roads, but if they do not yet realise they have the condition, are reluctant to admit it or are confused, many can still get behind the wheel.
Under new guidelines doctors are encouraged to report elderly patients to the DVLA who they feel are no longer capable of driving, but many GPs say they don’t for fear of breaching patient confidentiality or putting patients off seeking medical help in future.
A car can be vital to maintaining independence. In fact, the RAC Foundation say 37 million drivers depend on their cars, especially those in rural areas who often don’t have many other options.
We all know public transport is facing budget cuts and dwindling services, meaning many councils would probably not be able to cope if lots of older drivers gave up their licence to use alternative transport.
This would leave thousands of older people stranded in their homes and isolated from others – and this can have hugely damaging effects. A recent study by epidemiologists found that when older motorists have to give up driving, their mental and physical health declines, and can lead to issues such as depression.
Some experts say driving can help keep the symptoms of dementia at bay, while holding back physical signs of ageing.
A spokesman of The Older Drivers Task Force, who are campaigning to raise the age you have to renew your licence to 75, recently said older drivers, by giving up their licence ‘lose the social contacts that they had, are more likely to get depressed and isolated and put a greater burden on the care system’.
The facts show older drivers are statistically no more likely to cause accidents than younger drivers. In fact, the risk of a driver over 70 killing a pedestrian is less than a middle-aged driver, while those over 70 are half as likely to be involved in car accidents as 18-20 year-olds, according to the Association of British Insurers.
We all age at a different rate, meaning while one person may not be fit to drive at 65 another is still a safe pair of hands at 103.
Concerned about a friend or relative…?
It can be difficult to broach the subject of someone’s driving as they may react defensively. But if you think they are a danger you need to speak up. Try to put yourself in their shoes and approach the topic sensitively and tactfully, explaining that they are putting themselves and others at risk and suggesting other options for getting around.
A free Age UK leaflet is available which includes support and advice for older drivers. Call 0800 169 2081 or visit www.ageuk.org.uk/travel-lifestyle/people/driving/declaring-health-conditions
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