Posted by cellcontrol
Itâ€™s the age old (pardon the pun) question: Are elderly drivers safe? Well we suppose it depends what you mean by old. And it depends what you mean by safe.
Do the driving skills of older drivers decline with age? Yes. Requiring the complex coordination of several skills to be deemed safe on the roads, the physical and mental changes that accompany aging â€“ such as a slowdown in reflexes and response time, a loss of vision, hearing and memory, a weakening of muscle strength, drowsiness and less ability to focus â€“ can all have a concerning effect on their ability to drive safely.
But as with other age brackets, skills vary from one person to another. Most people agree, therefore, that simply revoking an elderly personâ€™s driverâ€™s license over a certain age is simply unacceptable. That is why, therefore, the current practice is for the over 70s to declare themselves fit to drive every three years and renew their license â€“ without the need for a driving test or medical exam.
According to most recent figures, the UKâ€™s oldest licensed driver is a 108-year old woman and there are 236 people over the age of 100 with a license â€“ part of the 4.5 million full-license holders over 70. Yet because the Department for Transport (DfT) says there is no evidence that older drivers are more likely to cause an accident, it has no plans to place any restrictions on the basis of age.
Philip Gomm of the RAC Foundation is quoted in the Guardian as saying that â€œolder drivers often get a bad rap, as they actually tend to be some of the safest people on the road. They often self-regulate and avoid situations where they feel uncomfortable, such as driving during the rush hour, at night or on motorways.â€
However, head of research at the RAC Foundation, Liz Box, is reported as claiming that there is some evidence to suggest that drivers over 80 are at an increased risk of accidents, as well as being more frail so more likely to be injured if an accident were to occur.
â€œThere are huge benefits to people driving, it helps them feel empoweredâ€, she says. “. What we want people to do is see their optician regularly, and go to independent assessment centres if they are concerned.”
Director of policy and research at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, Neil Greig, is quoted in the BBC as saying that “there’s a stat that young drivers under the age of 24 have twice as many crashes as you’d expect, given the numbers on the road, and older drivers have half as many as you’d expect.”
Despite this, he does acknowledge that there are some situations â€“ for example high-speed junctions, roundabouts and motorways â€“ where â€œsomeâ€ may â€œstruggleâ€.
“There’s some evidence that suddenly stopping driving and a lack of mobility leads to depression, so we want to keep people independent for as long as possible.â€, he says. â€œThe key thing is for people to start preparing for it early so they have other options.”
Somewhat tellingly, however, insurance provider Rias conducted a survey recently which found that despite seven out of 10 people believing a person should be allowed to continue driving into old age without any sort of refresher course or test, over two million drivers over 50 did not feel that they are fit to be behind the wheel. Yet according to Confused.com, almost half of Brits half called for the law to change so that elderly drivers are forced to retake their test every three years. Somewhat interestingly, however, more than a fifth believe that all motorists should have to do this every 10 years â€“ despite their age. It may also be no surprise that older drivers express concerns about their younger counterparts, too, with more than half over 70 believing that younger drivers are more reckless and cause more accidents on the road. And with the issue of mobile phones and distracted driving continually on the rise, they may have a point.
A report commissioned by Ford as part of the Ford Driving Skills for Life programme revealed that university students are the worst when it comes to road safety, with 43% admitting to sending texts while driving, 60% speeding and 13% drink driving.
Josh Sadler, racing driver, founder of independent Porsche specialist, Autofarm, and aged 73, is definitely one of those who believes that age is just a number.
â€œYou keep doing things as long as you can!â€, he tells us. â€œI still get the same excitement, the same thrill from racing as I did when I was younger. At 73 your whole body shakes with the adrenaline and anticipation as it did when you were 23. That feeling definitely makes you feel alive â€“ perhaps it also keeps you alive!
â€œI know racers on the vintage scene that are still going at the age of 90. With years of experience, you know how the whole motor racing scene works, how an event works â€“ itâ€™s like a comfortable pair of slippers. You have a greater perspective of whatâ€™s important and what you can let go over your head. You are less likely to be the last of the late brakers â€“ you donâ€™t take unnecessary risks â€“ but you are more likely to finish. The knowledge and experience means better reliability. You tend to come second rather than first!
â€œGenerally, energy levels make competing more of a challenge, especially if youâ€™re preparing and working on the car in between sessions as well as racing it. Iâ€™m not sure when it will be time to stop, energy levels could be a factor. However, being a pensioner, itâ€™s more likely to be running out of money that forces me to stop racing!â€
Confused.com motoring expert, Matt Lloyd, says: â€œFor years, people have argued over whether younger or older motorists are the worst drivers. While this is still up for debate, we need to understand that we should be more concerned about the individualâ€™s driving abilities. Drivers, regardless of age, should be mindful of their own ability and make sure responsible driving is their number one priority.
â€œYour safety and the safety of other road users are the most important things to consider. If youâ€™re concerned that your driving is not as good as it was, donâ€™t wait for an accident to convince you to stop.â€
Managing Director at Rias, Adam Clarke, commented:Â â€œSince launching the RiasÂ Drive FitÂ campaign in 2014 our aim has been to encourage safer driving whilst also supporting independence. While it may be a tough decision to give up driving, honest self-assessment is vital in ensuring the safety of both older drivers and other road users.
â€œThe idea of a mandatory re-test is a controversial subject but one which the Government should consider, but a refresher course wouldÂ be a welcome addition to driver experience for motorists of all ages.â€
The AA Charitable Trust has also worked to address this, developing the Drive Confident course to help older drivers stay safe on the road and has currently funded more than 3,000 courses, whilst more than 25 experts and organisations in transport, health, policing, licensing, car manufacturing and insurance â€“ known collectively as the Older Drivers Task Force – have collaborated to produce a report called Supporting Safe Driving Into Old Age which outlines seven key recommendations for the government to address, including mandatory vision every two years from the age of 60 and improving road designs, signs and markings.
â€œPeople are living longer, healthier, more active lives, and driving longerâ€, says Chairman of the Older Drivers Task Force, John Plowman. â€œThe number of drivers over 85 will double to 1 million by 2025, many without access to public transport. This influx of older drivers has important economic and social value but it also presents road safety risks if we donâ€™t adapt. Getting to grips with these risks, without limiting the independence and freedoms of the elderly is an important policy challenge â€“ one to be tackled by the appointment of a minister with responsibility for older drivers.â€
Bottom line, and whichever side of the debate you fall on, as an older driver, there are steps you can and should take to ensure your responsibility on the road is not diminished:
As a caregiver, you should also regularly evaluate the driving skills â€“ and medical history – of your elderly loved ones to see if they are still safe on the road â€“ and often they will be. But when the warning signs are there and you feel that there is no other option other than hanging up their car keys, just how should you go about it?
Remember, the safety of the driver and others must always come first.