On 26 June, Age UK is supporting a free conference at the Mobility Roadshow looking at how we can improve road safety for older drivers. Joe Oldman, Age UK’s Consumer and Community Policy Advisor, explains the current issues in the older driver debate.
For many of us, continuing to drive as we get older is essential – a car may determine our ability to remain active and independent. The thought of having to give up driving can be distressing, especially in places where alternative forms of transport are limited or non-existent.
Challenging the myths about older drivers
With an increase in older drivers, there is growing concern about the implications for road safety. Media coverage about older drivers and safety can be unhelpful or even insulting – dealing in lazy stereotypes rather than considering the evidence. The vast majority of older drivers, with many years of experience, are often safer than younger drivers. Those drivers aged 75 and over make up 6% of all licence holders, but account for just 4.3% of all deaths and serious injuries on the road. By contrast, drivers aged 16-20 make up just 2.5% of all drivers but 13% of those killed and seriously injured.
Adjusting our driving to stay safe
As we get older, driving safely can become more of a challenge, especially if our physical and mental agility is reduced. But the majority of older people adjust their driving habits to compensate for any impairment. For example, as we age it becomes more difficult for our eyes to adjust to driving in dark conditions. As a consequence, many older people reduce their night time journeys.
Self-regulation versus testing
There is evidence that the changes we make in our driving behaviour as we age is an effective form of ‘self-regulation’. This works well in the UK, in comparison with countries that require age based testing to improve road safety. It can be argued that ‘age based’, rather than ‘ability based’, testing is discriminatory and does not necessarily reduce fatalities. At the same time Age UK strongly supports measures to protect the safety of older drivers as well as other road users and pedestrians.
Better advice at the right time
Age UK would like to see improvements in the practical help available to older drivers to stay safe. The DVLA, health professionals, the police and employers all have a key role in offering timely information and advice. Age UK has its own leaflet for older drivers ‘In the driving seat’, which describes strategies for driving safely for longer. Alternatively, drivers who may be lacking confidence or have a medical condition can get an objective assessment from a mobility centre to help evaluate what the risks of driving are and how they can improve.
Bright future ahead with new technology
There are good reasons to be optimistic about the ability of all of us to continue driving for longer. There are exciting advances in age friendly roads and car technology that will benefit all drivers. Although completely driverless cars are still likely to be many years away, much of the related technology is available today. In addition, further improvements in vehicle adaptions for disabled drivers will allow improved safety, tailored to the needs of individual drivers.
Get involved in the debate
Age UK is keen for older drivers to share their views about road safety. This is particularly important at the moment with the work of the ‘Older Drivers Taskforce’ led by the Road Safety Foundation and a forthcoming DVLA review of policy on older drivers.
If you’d like to get involved in the debate why not consider attending the free Mobility Roadshow conference on 26 June at Donington Park, Derby. It’s sure to be an interesting day out, offering the opportunity to see the latest advances in mobility technology.
See you there?