When are you too old to drive?
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The BBC has recently reported that the RAC Foundation has said the number of drivers over 70 years of age has exceeded four million for the first time.
191 people over 100 years old hold a licence and the eldest licence holder is a woman of 107.
Although drivers over 70 must declare they are fit every three years they do not have to take a driving or medical fitness exam which will no doubt surprise many of you.
As a nation we are all living much longer and our health for the majority of us is getting better as we are eating more healthily, taking more exercise and the more serious ailments which were once untreatable, can now be dealt with through medication and/or treatment to aid a full recovery.
None of us would deny that as we get older our ability to carry out tasks and activities diminishes, our reaction times become slower, our sight gets weaker and we can become more confused and frail. However it is very difficult to give up the freedom and independence that driving gives.
It is believed that out of an estimated 500,000 motorists that turn 70 this year 50,000 will continue driving with poor levels of ability and 170,000 will stop driving too early.
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation believes the Government has a responsibility to help older drivers to make the correct choices about their abilities to continue driving.
We have all read stories of elderly drivers driving the wrong way up a motor way or making what initially was to be a short journey taking all day because of taking the wrong turnings which can be more comical than tragic. However, there is the more serious side like when an 86-year-old drove the wrong way up the motorway and killed himself and his wife and three other people in a horrific head on collision involving six vehicles. Another example is of a 72-year-old grandmother who was killed when her husband reversed over her in the front drive of their home.
As the law currently stands once you reach the age of 70 you have to re-apply for your driving licence and then every three years after that. You must declare any medical conditional which may affect your driving ability such as epilepsy and diabetes which may lead to further testing. There is no formal medical testing and one's driving ability is largely left up to the individual driver. "You can decide when to stop as long as you don't have any medical conditions that affect your driving", says the Government's direct.gov.uk website and there are helpful aids on this website. Follow this link if you are unsure about what you need to declare.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents offers "refresher" courses for older drivers, known as Experienced Driver Assessments and you can find out more information about these courses on their website. Simon Best of the Institute of Advanced Motorists says that those who wish to continue driving beyond the age of 70 should only be prevented from doing so if there are compelling reasons. "Rather than seeking to prevent older people from driving, we should make them more aware of the risks they face, and offer them driving assessments to help them eliminate bad habits."
Facts about older drivers
Did you know:
- One in 56 casualties among pedestrians in their 20s is fatal. This rises to one in 13 among the over 80s. The same applies to drivers rising from 1 in 141 to 1 in 38.
- Drivers over 80 are two and a half times as likely to be killed in a collision as drivers in their 40s but are less likely to be seriously injured.
- Older driver deaths and serious injuries are falling; but not as much as all casualties. This is probably because the number of older drivers is increasing steadily as the population ages.
- Drivers over 70 are as safe as drivers of 25. Drivers over 80 are less safe, but still safer than drivers in their teens.
- More than 50% of drivers over 75 say they leave longer following distances, are more cautious, and avoid heavy traffic and long trips compared with when they were 50. Many also avoid night driving, motorways and drive more slowly.
- Older pedestrians face the same problems as older drivers. In 2009 155 pedestrians over 70 were killed crossing the road, compared with 37 child pedestrians. Getting older drivers out of cars does not ensure their safety on the road.
- Older drivers are involved in very few drink-drive or single vehicle accidents which are much more likely among younger people.
The AA have published a list of tips on their website to help you drive more safely and/or recognise when it maybe time to reconsider continuing to drive:
- Ageing - Everyone ages differently. There is no safe or unsafe age for a driver.
- Frailty - Older people are more frail and more likely to suffer serious injury in accidents. It is likely that casualty figures are higher because of this frailty rather than because they are worse drivers.
- Fatigue - Older people are more susceptible to fatigue. Long journeys are best avoided, especially after meals or alcohol.
- Fitness to drive - It is your responsibility to ensure fitness to drive. You must inform the DVLA of any medical conditions that will affect your driving. Your GP may say when you need to do this, but it is a good idea to ask "will this affect my driving?" whenever a new condition is diagnosed, or treatment given. Dementia poses particular problems. You must also make sure you meet the eyesight requirement. Regular eye tests will help.
- Reapplying for your licence - Once over 70 you will have to reapply for your licence every three years. There is no test or medical examination, but you do have to make a medical declaration that may lead to DVLA making further investigations.
- Restricting driving - Many older drivers restrict how and where they drive. You might choose to avoid driving in the dark, driving on fast roads or in busy town centres, driving in bad weather or driving long distances. If you have particular problems with some manoeuvres (such as turning right at junctions) it may be possible to plan routes to avoid these. Self restriction is a sign of responsibility and can increase safety, comfort and confidence.
- The right car - The right car can help a lot. Larger mirrors and bigger windows help all-round vision while bigger doors and higher seats can all help getting in and out.
- Keep driving - If you've got a licence and are fit to drive, keep driving. Try not to become over dependent on your partner's driving because as traffic conditions change it can be very hard to take up driving again after several years off. Try to stay in practice on the roads you frequently use.
- Plan for the future - There will eventually come a day when you do have to give up driving. Decisions made at the time of retirement like choosing to live in the country can have a big effect if driving has to stop.
- Second opinion - If it's a friend or relative you're worried about, get a second opinion. Check with their neighbours or friends: do they feel safe if they have a lift? Would they take a lift? Does the driver seem in control when reversing or manoeuvring? In some areas there are local authority schemes that use driving instructors to assess older drivers, but make sure this is in the sorts of conditions and on the sorts of roads they normally use. Mobility Centres can also help.
Just because you are getting older does not mean you have to give up driving and your freedom but you do have a responsibility to yourself, your family and other road users to be able to recognise when you may need some help and guidance and it may be time to give up driving.
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