A little over two years ago, the journalist Julia Langdon wrote a frank and honest account of the time she realised her father’s driving had become dangerous. ‘He had recently knocked down a lamp post on the bypass near our home and had a shunting accident in a car park that had put dents in four vehicles in as many minutes… I decided something had to be done. He was a danger to our mother, to his neighbours and – not least – to himself. We had to stop him from driving,’ she wrote, almost by way of a confessional, in this article published by the Daily Mail.
The writer felt compelled to inform the DVLA that her father, at the age of 90 years old, should no longer be considered fit to drive. Despite her concerns, however, and following an assessment by his doctor, his licence was extended by another three years. ‘When I asked the DVLA about this,’ wrote the journalist, ‘I got a lecture from an official. If my father wanted to drive and his doctor had certified him fit there was no further action they could take. It was his human right.’
A human right to drive. That’s an important point to consider, and especially as the age of drivers is a hot potato of a debate: how old is too old to drive? Are elderly drivers dangerous simply by virtue of their age, or is that opinion guilty of enforcing an inaccurate sweeping statement across a generation of motorists?
In 2013, an 84-year-old female motorist was killed when the car she was driving the wrong way – travelling southbound on the northbound carriageway of the A1 in Northumberland – collided with several other vehicles. In August of this year, West Midlands police successfully intervened to halt a motorist who was travelling the wrong way on the M6 Toll; the driver of the car was 77 years old.
Such instances are very often highly publicised and provide headline news material, perhaps inflating the perception of older driver performance. Nevertheless, a survey conducted by Auto Trader in 2013 showed that 73% of the 3,763 respondents were concerned by the behaviour of older motorists, while more than six out of ten believed senior drivers should have to prove their fitness to drive through regular checks to determine competent coordination skills and sight. This lends weight to the belief that drivers over a certain age – and 66, which will be the official retirement age by 2020, has been suggested – should have to retake their driving test. Follow the ongoing debate here.
Dismissing the abilities of older motorists might be considered unfair, however. After all, statistics from the Department for Transport have stated there is no evidence that older drivers are more likely to cause an accident. Figures from 2011 state there were 10,974 accidents involving drivers over the age of 70 that year, in comparison to 11,946 accidents involving 17-19 year olds and just over 24,000 in the 20-24 category – though there are no details on who may have caused the accident, which could be critical information being overlooked.
Not only that, a safety survey from the RAC Foundation poll found that young drivers are viewed as more of a hazard on the roads than the elderly. This poll revealed that 83% of respondents regard young drivers being involved in road accidents as a problem, while 52% regard older drivers in accidents as a problem. There have also been calls to regulate young drivers – banning new drivers from the roads between the hours of midnight and 5am is one option, while another is restricting the number of passengers a novice motorist can carry.
The older motorist might be under scrutiny but he and she are certainly on the rise. The BBC reported last year that the number of over-70s holding a UK driving licence has exceeded four million for the first time. Clearly, there are more senior motorists on the UK’s roads than ever before.
Currently, there is no obligation for drivers to retake their test at the latter stage of their lives. The government’s guidelines are clear. Motorists aged 70 or older are required to renewing their driving licence – for free – every three years. All drivers, regardless of age, must meet standards of vision for driving and the DVLA must be informed if you, as a driver, have any problem with your eyesight. The DVLA must also be informed if you suffer from one of these health conditions. Some drivers may benefit from the successful Motability Scheme, click here to read more.
As it stands, there are no requirements for older drivers to renew their test provided they are healthy and capable. And, with more senior citizens on the road than ever before, the onus is on careful, controlled and consideration driving rather than the age of the person behind the wheel, surely?
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