Safety groups say older drivers get a 'bad press'

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Elderly driver in Kia
Road safety organisations have said forcing elderly drivers to retake their test when they reach a certain age is not the best way to improve road safety.

There has been a recent spate of accidents involving older drivers who police have claimed were not fit to hold a licence.

One accident saw a 16-year-old girl killed by an 87-year-old driver who swerved onto the pavement in Colchester, Essex crushing the girl against a wall. Police had asked the driver to give up his licence three days before the fatal crash after he was involved in a separate crash, an inquest heard.

However, road safety groups have told Autoblog that they think incidents involving elderly drivers are more widely reported in the press – heightening the public's negative perception of older drivers.

"Older drivers do of course make mistakes as do all older people," said Adrian Walsh, director of charity RoadSafe.

"There is evidence to show that risk increases as drivers get older, but the type of error is quite different from young drivers – most of them are to do with errors of judgement rather than breaches of the law and most are 'lapses'. One thing is quite clear – older drivers take less risks."

Andrew Howard, head of road safety at The AA, agreed, adding: "It is very difficult to base decisions on older drivers on the more outrageous accidents that they have. After all we don't base our rules on all young drivers around those who pinch cars, speed or drive stupidly to impress their friends.

"By and large, most older drivers are safe drivers. Risk curves fall from teenage to late 40s and only really begin to turn up again by late 60s/early 70s and sharply by 80s. Even then they struggle to have a risk level challenging the youngest (and fittest) drivers."

Howard added that stopping older people driving would have immense costs too – both personally and to the economy as other forms of transport would have to be funded.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists said they think older drivers get an "unfair press".

"In terms of the number of crashes they have they are one of the safest groups on the road and far safer than young drivers between the ages of 17-24," said the IAM's Neil Greig.

"When an older driver knocks down a pedestrian or drives the wrong way up a dual carriageway they get banner headlines and calls for tough retests. The vast majority of older drivers are responsible adults who know their weaknesses and change their driving to cope with them."

The IAM wants to see voluntary assessments made widely available, such as its DriveCheck55, where drivers can refresh their skills, discuss the high risk factors and get an independent assessment without fear of losing their licence.

Meanwhile, professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said there is no evidence older drivers have more accidents.

"In fact their safety record is better than that of many young drivers - but their frailty means that when they are involved in collisions they are more likely to be killed or seriously injured," he explained.

"Rather than introducing compulsory retesting for older drivers, we would like to see the greater promotion of voluntary refresher courses. Insurance policies which offer discounts to older drivers who do not drive at the riskiest times – such as at night – and on the most dangerous roads would also help."

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