Are rules for older drivers likely to change?
27th August 2019
A large proportion of people have a negative perception of older drivers. In fact, a YouGov poll carried out for CarTakeBack in April this year revealed that a massive 69% of people think drivers should have to resit their test when they turn 60. Not only that, almost half of the people polled (49%) believe that drivers should have their licences revoked once they hit a certain age. This is due to concerns that older drivers have slower reactions (71%), bad eyesight (47%), drive too slowly and cause congestion (33%), as well as them not remembering the rules of the road (26%).
There's currently no legal age at which you must stop driving. By law, you must renew your licence when you reach the age of 70, and then every three years after that. During each renewal, you will have to declare any medical conditions listed on the form and confirm you meet the eyesight standards for driving. If a condition or disability is not declared, a fine of up to £1,000 can be issued, and prosecution is possible if you are involved in a crash.
Driving is essential to many older people as it determines their ability to remain active and independent. Without being able to drive, those in remote locations especially may find it harder to visit family and friends. Elderly people are especially vulnerable to loneliness and isolation, which can have serious consequences on their health and wellbeing. Therefore, it’s important any drastic measures such as banning this certain age group from driving is thoroughly considered.
How do older drivers compare to younger drivers?
It’s likely high-profile crash cases involving older people, such as the incident with the Duke of Edinburgh in January 2019, significantly impacts the public’s view on the safety of older drivers.
However, Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart’s director of policy and research, says the reality is that older drivers are amongst the safest drivers. If you look at government statistics, the over-70s age bracket make up 8% of the driving population but account for just 4% of crashes where someone is injured. In contrast, drivers in their teens and 20s make up 15% of the driving population, yet are involved in 34% of injury crashes.
Statistics do, however, show that drivers over 85 do start to have more crashes as their faculties fade and their experience is no longer enough to compensate. And with an ageing population, this is something that can’t be ignored.
According to the DVLA, the number of people aged 70 years and over with a full driving licence has risen by 25% in the last five years. In addition, drivers aged 90 years and over have increased by 45% since November 2013. And we can’t ignore the fact that mental and physical deterioration is inevitable as we age.
A major change we experience when getting older is vision deterioration. We become less sensitive to light, which is what enables us to see clearly. Refocusing from one object to another also takes longer, meaning the simple task of checking the rear-view mirror then shifting attention back to the road ahead, becomes more of a challenge.
Muscles that regulate the size of the pupils weaken with age, meaning pupils become smaller, dilate more slowly in the dark and react more sluggishly to light. According to the BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation, someone aged 55 takes eight times longer to regain normal vision after exposure to bright light compared to someone aged 16. Other visual systems affected by ageing include peripheral vision, depth perception and colour perception.
In addition, reflexes can get slower as you get older – meaning you may not react as quickly. A potential shortened attention span may also make it harder to concentrate. Stiff joints or weak muscles that can affect many older people, can make it harder to steer or use foot pedals. Alongside all this, the older we get, the more likely we are to suffer with certain medical conditions that can impair driving ability, such as dementia.
Are driving rules for older drivers likely to change?
In a refreshed road safety statement released in July 2019, the UK Department for Transport disclosed that they are considering the case for mandatory eyesight tests at 70 years of age, then at three year intervals thereafter (coinciding with licence renewal). However, they advised that further research is needed to evaluate the extent to which vision issues pose a risk to road safety for drivers of all ages.
In partnership with the DVLA, the government are launching a research programme and literature review to assess how much poor vision is, or may itself become, a road safety problem in the UK and if there is a requirement for a new vision test to identify drivers who pose a collision risk.
The report also revealed they will be working with the insurance industry to look at data on catastrophic claims involving older drivers, to understand the causes and how to prevent them.
Whilst there are no immediate changes to rules for older drivers, the report revealed that the following organisations will be given grants to provide better information and educational support to older drivers: the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, BRAKE, Road Safety GB and RoadSafe.
Stay safe in the driver’s seat
The truth is, we all age at different rates. Some drivers will be as safe at 80 as they were when they were 40 and then there will be others that who should probably have given up driving at 65.
We've put together some things we all must do, at any age, to ensure we are safe to drive.
Notify the DVLA of any medical conditions that could affect driving
It's a legal requirement to tell the DVLA about a health or medical condition that could affect your driving. If you're unsure of the medical conditions you are required to declare, please see the DVLA website.
To ensure safe driving you need to continuously look for potential hazards. A defensive driver will not only concentrate on their own actions, but the possible actions of other road users. This type of driving helps to reduce the chance of a collision by anticipating dangerous situations, despite actions of other road users or the conditions you're driving in.
Ensure your vision is meeting the minimum requirements
You must be able to read a number plate from 20 metres (with contact lenses or glasses, if you need them). There are also minimum requirements for the clarity of your vision (visual acuity) and your field of vision, which an optician can check for you. Changes to your eyesight can happen gradually, meaning you may not even notice, so it’s widely recommended that you get your eyes tested at least once every two years. If you're concerned at any point that your eyesight may have worsened, don’t delay and get yourself booked in for a test.
Don’t be stubborn
Driving a motor vehicle is one of the biggest responsibilities we have day-to-day. It’s vital and potentially life-saving to admit when you can no longer drive safely. If your reactions are noticeably slower than they used to be, and you find traffic conditions increasingly stressful, it could be time to give up driving.
Tell the DVLA if you have concerns about a loved one
If you are concerned about a loved one’s ability to drive due to medical grounds, you can report your concerns anonymously through the DVLA website.