Older drivers: Getting behind the headlines

We have all seen the caricatures of dangerous older drivers in the headlines. They often lurch towards the discriminatory assumption that people’s ability to drive stops on their 70th birthday.

But we are also likely to know of someone, a family member or friend, that should think about changing their driving.

The benefits of continuing to drive almost go without saying – it is available at any hour, provides door-to-door transport and is often seen as a symbol of independence. Research shows that many older people see the loss of a driver’s licence as a major stressful life event.

It is clear that we need to go beyond the headlines and have a sensible debate about what road safety means for people in later life.

Understanding road safety statistics

If you look at road safety statistics younger and older people are overrepresented in casualty statistics and causing crashes. This is central to the question of how safe older people are on the road.

First we need to be clear about the scale of the problem. That is to what extent do these trends increase over the age of 70.

Research from IAM found that although 8 per cent of drivers are over 70, they are involved in only around four per cent of injury crashes; whereas of the 15 per cent of drivers who are in their teens and 20s, 34 per cent are involved in injury crashes. Suggesting that the risk of older drivers being involved in an accident is in fact relatively small.

However, we also need to understand where the risk lies when there is an accident.

A recent report from the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, It’s my choice, brought together a range of research on older drivers and transport, concluding they were not ‘a risk’ to other road users.

Rather they found that older drivers were putting themselves “at risk”.

The research suggest that, particularly for drivers over the age of 80, the increase in the number of casualties relates to their increasingly frailty, which makes people more vulnerable to injury in an accident.

The Department for Transport have reported that older people are between two and five times more likely to be killed or suffer a serious injury as a result of any road accident than a younger person.

Taking responsibility

This is not to say that we should carry on driving regardless.

For instance, some medical conditions will affect your driving and you should discuss this with your GP.

You might be concerned about bad habits or have lost confidence behind the wheel. In this case you should think about taking a refresher course. You may just want to pick the times you drive, such as leaving the car at home in bad weather.

When it comes to driving everyone is responsible, at whatever age, for making sure they are safe on the road. The emphasis should be on supporting older people to continue driving safely so that older people retain their ability to get out and about.