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Should Older Motorists Be Subjected To A Health “MOT”?

Tue, 25/07/2017
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Almost 90% of drivers believe compulsory eye tests for motorists would make our roads safer, according to a survey earlier this year. According to road safety officer Neil Worth from GEM Motoring Assist, regular eyesight tests are vital as more older people are continuing to drive.

There are more than 4.5 million motorists aged over 70 in the UK (including more than 200 who are over 100 years old), and  older drivers and passengers are more likely to be more seriously injured in road accidents compared to younger people. This means it is very important to make sure that elderly drivers are physically able to drive safely. So should older motorists be subject to regular eye tests, and do the rules need to be reformed to implement mandatory health checks? What are the risks for older drivers?

Strengths and Weaknesses of Older Drivers

It is a common belief that elderly drivers are more dangerous than younger motorists. However, in some situations, older drivers are actually safer than most other age groups. In 2016, just 0.4% of drivers over the age of 70 had their licenses removed because they were deemed unfit to drive. Add to that, 34% of drivers in their teens and twenties are involved in crashes that lead to injury, compared to just 4% of drivers over 70.

So how does this age group drive differently to others? Older drivers tend to adapt their journeys to avoid driving in situations where they are uncomfortable – for example in the dark or in bad weather. They also have a defensive and more cautious driving style, resulting in fewer crashes on bends and while overtaking.

However, older drivers are more prone to making errors at junctions on faster roads of 60mph and 70mph, where faster reaction times may be required. They are also more likely to be involved in single-vehicle collisions, where no other vehicle is involved.

The Current Licensing System

Drivers aged 70 are currently required to apply to renew their driving license, which involves completing a declaration stating they are fit to drive. After the age of 70, drivers are required to

reapply every three years. As people can lose up to 40% of their visual acuity without being aware of it, it may be that this self-declaration system is not a reliable enough way to determine a person’s ability to drive.

But of course, this age group is not the only demographic that may have poor eyesight or other health problems that could affect their driving. Regardless of age, motorists are required to inform the DVLA of any health problems – either new or worsening – that could impede their driving ability. Failure to do this can result in a fine of up to £1,000, and if you are involved in an accident in which your health was a factor, you could be prosecuted and your insurance could be invalid. If you are taking medication, it is important to be aware of whether or not you are allowed to drive while you are taking it, as it may be illegal to do so if the medication impairs your driving.

Should the Law Be Changed?

The widower of a woman who was killed by an elderly driver in 2012 is campaigning for compulsory retesting for drivers over the age of 70. Desreen Brooks was mowed down by an 85 year old driver who had hit the accelerator instead of the brake and was travelling at 54mph in a 20mph zone. Her husband has called for health checks for those over 70 to ensure that they are still fit to drive. However, Neil Greig, director of policy and research for IAM RoadSmart, says “70-year-olds are actually just as safe as 50 or 60-year-old middle aged drivers. If you are going to re-test anybody based on their road safety record, it would be new drivers, two years after passing their test.” However, he did suggest that eyesight tests could be introduced for those aged 75.

Sergeant Rob Heard, Chair of non-profit organisation Older Drivers Forum, suggests that all drivers should take regular mandatory eye tests. As a result of this, the age for renewing a driving licence could then be increased to 75. However, at the moment the DVLA has no plans to change the current licensing requirements.

How Can Elderly Drivers Stay Safe Behind the Wheel?

Being able to drive gives people freedom and independence, and this is a luxury that some would otherwise not enjoy if they could not drive – particularly if they live in rural areas where public transport links are poor. It is therefore understandable that drivers may be reluctant to give up those freedoms. People are living for longer than ever before, and many people stay healthy, sharp and capable for a long time. Elderly people should therefore be allowed to drive for as long as they can and it may be unfair to cover those later years in lots of red tape.

However, it is important that everyone driving on the roads can do so safely. As there are currently no medical checks in place, the onus is on the individual to make sure they are fit to drive. To make sure they stay on the roads and stay safe, drivers should:

  • Continue to renew their licence
  • Have regular health checks, including hearing tests and eye tests
  • Drive regularly to maintain their confidence on the roads

If friends or family are concerned about a person’s driving abilities, it is important to voice these concerns to ensure the person is aware  that their driving may be unsafe, and support them in getting health checks and even finding alternative ways to get around if necessary. If a motorist is struggling to drive due to a disability, the Motability Scheme can help with car adaptations such as hand controls, steering aids and pedal modifications. The advent of self-driving cars could also help people to get around who would otherwise be unable to drive, but until that time comes, motorists must stay vigilant and self-aware so that everyone can use the roads safely for as long as possible.

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