A petition to introduce compulsory, age-related driving tests is gathering momentum. Benjamin Brooks-Dutton started the petition to the Department for Transport and Secretary of State for Transport after his wife Desreen was killed by an 85-year-old driver who mistook his car’s accelerator for the brake. The vehicle was travelling at 54 miles per hour in a 20 mile per hour zone when it mounted the pavement and struck Desreen.
The petition now has more than 250,000 of the 300,000 signatures that it is seeking. In addition, Harriet Harman MP has written to Lilian Greenwood MP, Chair of the Transport Committee, urging it to hold an inquiry into the mandatory re-assessment of drivers over the age of 70.
The news comes as DVLA figures reveal that the number of drivers aged 90 and over in Great Britain has topped 100,000 for the first time. When it comes to drivers aged between 80 and 89, the figure rises to more than 1.2 million.
Are older drivers more dangerous?
In 2016, the Older Drivers Task Force report from the Road Safety Foundation reported that,
“Older drivers have reduced ability to judge and adapt to speed and to read complex driving situations. Vision, reaction times and skills in executing manoeuvres decline with age.”
Medical conditions as well as age can impact on driving ability. As such, older drivers are already required to self-assess their medical fitness to drive every three years. However, the Older Drivers Task Force report highlights the fact that self-declarations are unreliable, citing one study that found a 60% disparity between self-declarations of cardiac problems and physicians’ evidence of the same.
Despite this, there is a growing body of evidence to show that older drivers are actually less dangerous on the roads that younger drivers. An accident data study by Swansea University found that drivers aged 70 and over are involved in between three and four times fewer accidents than male drivers aged between 17 and 21. Meanwhile, the Older Drivers Task Force study of police records found that drivers aged over 70 are less likely to kill a pedestrian than middle-aged drivers, and only half as likely to do so as drivers below the age of 25. The report also confirmed that,
“Drivers over 70 are less likely to be involved in crashes involving speed, loss of control or alcohol as a cause. They are more likely to be involved in a right of way violation.”
Should regular testing be compulsory for older drivers?
The Older Drivers Task Force reports that self-regulation is common among older drivers. Many choose to make fewer journeys and avoid more challenging conditions, such as driving at night or travelling on the motorway. However, self-regulation does not work for all. As the judge sentencing the driver who killed Desreen Brooks observed,
“An elderly driver who knows, or should acknowledge, that he or she is losing his or her faculties is no less a danger than a drunken driver who knows the same.”
Driving refresher courses are widely available and provide an option for older drivers to hone their skills. These are voluntary courses, though, and only available to those who can afford to take them.
The idea behind mandatory testing for older drivers is that it would catch those drivers whose faculties are no longer sharp enough that they should be behind the wheel, but who are not self-aware enough to realise this. One must query, however, why it is only older drivers who should be subjected to re-testing. Drivers aged 17-19 are disproportionately involved in car accidents according to DVLA figures. They account for just 1.6% of drivers, but are involved in 6% of accidents. Older drivers, meanwhile, account for 10% of drivers but are involved in just 6% of accidents.
Based on the statistics, wouldn’t it be a better road safety investment to annually re-test those who have just qualified to drive, rather than homing in on those who have decades of experience under their belts?
Do you think older drivers should undergo mandatory re-testing in order to keep their driving licenses? Or is the risk posed by elderly drivers being blow out of proportion? Leave a comment below to let us know your view.