The recent high profile road accident involving the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, has raised a number of questions about the upper age limit people should be allowed to continue driving, and whether or not the Government needs to have a re-think about the rules.
At present, we can legally drive until the age of 70 and then it becomes time to renew our driving licence, a procedure that must be completed every three years thereafter.
If, at any time, you should develop any illness or condition that impacts upon your ability to drive safely then you must inform the DVLA or the DVA if you live in Northern Ireland. And if any existing conditions worsen, the DVLA must once again be notified - these are the legal rules not just for the elderly, but for everyone driving on the roads. Failure to adhere could lead to fines of £1,000 and, if you are involved in an accident, it’s very likely your insurance would be invalid.
Once you have informed the DVLA about a medical condition, it does not automatically mean you will never drive again. They decide whether or not you can continue to drive based on the information you have provided. Or they may want a GP or consultant’s input. They can also ask you to take a driving assessment.
Arguments for and against letting older drivers on the road
For example, they have more experience so should be better than younger motorists. And according to Brake, the road safety charity, research indicates that drivers aged between 60 and 69 actually have less than half the number of accidents of drivers aged from 20 to 29. But the charity also points out that the risk of a person aged 60 or older involved in a crash be it on foot, bicycle or vehicle being killed, is more than double that of a younger person.
And although the figures suggest older people are involved in less accidents than younger motorists, on average they tend not to drive as far or go out as much in poor driving conditions or at night.
As we age, a number of changes occur that can have a dramatic effect on the way we drive. Our hearing, eyesight, reaction times and all-round mobility deteriorates gradually. In addition, many older drivers may be on regular medication and this could also have a detrimental impact on reaction times and awareness levels.
It’s vitally important that elderly drivers have regular health checks with their GP to make sure they are fit to drive, although the fear of being advised against getting behind the wheel could act as a deterrent.
As far as eyesight goes
You must be able to read a vehicle registration plate from 20 metres away in good daylight. You must have a good field of vision, and, if you are prescribed glasses or contact lenses, you must wear them.
Another aspect that older motorists should consider is their car. Safety features, especially driver aids, are incredibly advanced in newer vehicles and many feature city brake assist systems that can automatically help prevent a bump at lower speeds. Accidents involving older vehicles can be a lot more severe as they often have less crash protection and the shock, along with longer health recovery times, can be dangerous for older people.
But with our ageing population a real factor, we need to be aware that people are living longer and that driving a car offers real independence before we hastily take a person’s licence away. However, Brake is a campaigner for greater investment in affordable, safe and reliable public transport to ensure older people have a decent alternative to get out and about.
In the meantime though, if you are unsure whether or not you need to report any medical condition, then consult your GP or ask the DVLA or DVA for advice.