Should Elderly Drivers Be Retested?
By: Louis Cooper
30 June 2016
Passing your driving test is one of those brilliant milestones in life, a coming of age that usually marks the start of your journey to becoming an adult. It’s an extremely stressful process, full of nerves, determination and perseverance. And the sense of achievement is unparalleled when you pass, so should you have to retake your test when you get to a certain age? We explore the reasons for and against retesting later in life.
The most recent report by the Department for Transport on road casualties in Great Britain for 2014 showed that the number of car occupant fatalities for the over 60s increased by 7.6%, and seriously injured casualties had risen by 11%. The statistics reveal that almost all of the increase in fatalities came from the over 60s, however, it was mainly in the pedestrian road user group. Whereas the largest increase in seriously injured casualties came from the adult age group, even though this accounted for a 5% overall increase. Compared to the 11% increase experienced in the over 60s. So we can conclude that like with fatalities, a disproportionate amount of increase in casualties came from the older age group. And a significant amount of these casualties are pedestrians. When looking at driver casualties alone, there was a 10.3% increase for car occupants and a 6.2% increase for motorcycle users aged 60 and over.
These statistics act as a good indicator that people aged 60 or over are both more likely to have accidents and at a higher risk of death or serious injury if they are in accidents compared to younger age groups.
Elderly drivers – accidents waiting to happen?
Image credit to: Shutterstock/ Robert Crum
The numbers don’t lie, so what’s stopping the department for transport retesting elderly drivers? It certainly isn’t the will of the public that’s stopping them. Saga Car Insurance polled 9,000 over 50s and six in 10 thought retesting regularly was a good idea. Another poll carried out by the South Port Visiter showed that 83% of their website users were in favour of retesting. The poll followed the release of a petition on Change.org which called for compulsory age-appropriate retesting every 3 years once a driver turns 70. The appeal was launched by widower Benjamin Brooks-Dutton whose wife, Desreen, died in 2012 after being knocked down by an 85-year old driver who mistook the accelerator for the brake. The petition has garnered 209,380 signatures to date, however, the Secretary of State for Transport has not responded to the petition at all yet. As growing public pressure builds, it is expected that parliament ministers and The Department of Transport will seriously consider new measures in the near future, although no decisions or timings have been given yet. In an official report released this year on the future of the driving test it was said that “drivers need to maintain their skills throughout their career behind the wheel”. With many respondents to the consultation suggesting older drivers be should be retested from time to time.
How would it work?
There are a number of ways this could be implemented. Some doubters in the community have pointed out the drain on public finances and resources on retesting 20% of the population would bring. Logistically it would be a huge operation.
The petition mentioned above proposed that drivers aged 70 would be retested every 3 years. This evolves the current format which allows drivers to renew their licence via a self-assessment form every three years, at their discretion. At present they are not assessed for their driving skills, reactions, eyesight, hearing or emergency stopping actions. The proposed changes would make it compulsory.
Other issues than ability come into question, such as confidence. Some older people spend long periods of time not driving, whether that be because they use public transport, take an extended trip or time in hospital. And this time out of driving can put pressure on the confidence of older drivers. Perhaps instead of being an annoyance, the test could serve as a confidence booster for those unsure of their ability to drive carefully.
Brake, a road safety charity that supports the campaign for retesting has stated that drivers over 80 are involved in proportionately more crashes. They have campaigned for compulsory professional eyesight tests every time a driver renews their licence. Whether it be eye tests or general health checks, it is clear that a self-assessment to certify one to drive is not enough. The government will need to discuss and plan for how the public can be assured drivers aged 70 and over are proficient to be on the roads. Whether that be health checks, lighter formats of the original test or something different altogether.
Featured image credit to: Shutterstock/ goodluz