This report from the Road Safety Foundation was recently published after a comprehensive two-year research project. Its findings are objectively based, and its recommendations are constructive. Above all, it takes the line that for many older people, driving is a key to their remaining socially active and engaged, and we must sustain that, and reject any wild accusations that older drivers are inherently a menace.
One block of recommendations were rather prosaic but important. We need to examine our road design and signpost information better. There is official guidance in the US, Australia and New Zealand – can this be adopted? T – junctions seem to be a hazard, whilst mini-roundabouts seem more safe. Then there are loads of technological options within the car itself which can make driving it much easier, such as automated braking, or assisted parking. There are driving refresher programmes, and other similar schemes offered by a range of organisations, but these need some evaluation and principles of good practice set at a gold standard. These ideas should be better promoted, and popularised.
The report scotches the notion that older drivers are mobile disaster areas looking for an accident. The evidence from insurance records and payments bears this out. But it notes that the (few) catastrophic insurance claims needs more investigation to establish a pattern. Until there is enough open information available, companies will tend to mark up, in the name of prudence, the cost of insuring older drivers.
The case for raising from 70 to 75 the age when a driving licence needs renewing is examined. That requirement at that age goes back over fifty years, and a lot has changed in terms of health and longevity in that time. The report supports an upward adjustment, but crucially links with it a requirement to show a recent eye test. The evidence shows that sight deficiencies are a factor in many of the accidents involving older drivers, and unlike a range of other possible tests, an eye test is an objective measure and the deficiency can usually be corrected.
Age UK welcomes this report, and its recommendations are balanced and constructive. It is not scare-mongering nor demonising, and it seeks to improve the options for older people to continue driving – recognising how important it is to mobility, social integration and engagement. But if someone is considering giving up driving, we need to offer them better options too. Demonstrating the money ‘saved’ by giving up car ownership and all its related costs, and the expenditure on taxi journeys instead, would help. The report calls for more market innovation, suggesting (for example) a taxi ‘season ticket’ scheme.
Overall, there is more that both the public and the private sector could do to support older drivers. And the evidence from refresher courses is that older drivers themselves feel more confident after a session.