Boom in older drivers raises risk

Mobility scooter on roadAnthony Devlin/PA Archive/Press Association Images

As the UK population gets older, more and more of the cars on the road will be driven by the over 65s. And while there are plenty of perfectly able drivers pushing 70, a parliamentary committee has highlighted: "Within transport, we hear stories of older drivers causing crashes or getting lost on the motorway."

It suggests a number of steps, including special courses for older people.

The risks

The report was driven by the fact that the population is ageing. Currently in the UK around one in six of the population is aged 65 or over, and it is predicted that by 2050 one in four will be.

Added to that, while many people currently in their 70s don't have a licence, as the Baby Boomers age, an increasing number will enter retirement with their driving licence. In fact, while only 15% of those over the age of 70 had a licence in 1975, in 2010 that had risen to over 60%. It means, therefore, that it's essential that the government considers what to do about the increasing proportion of elderly drivers on the road.

The report went on to look at the risks that older drivers pose to themselves and others. It admitted that the data was hard to assess, but that: "Older drivers are over-represented in multi-vehicle crashes, suggesting that they have difficulty interacting with other road users."

The solution

At the moment, older drivers can continue behind the wheel until they decide they are unsafe to do so, under a system of self-regulation. All they have to do is fill in a form at the age of 70 saying they are safe to drive, and then renew it every three years after that.

The report says there needs to be urgent research into whether this is working and how it can be improved. It suggests sending out an information pack to give people a better understanding of whether they are indeed still safe to drive.

It also proposes a national standard course aimed at training older drivers, which drivers could choose to go on, or be referred by family or their GP. This sort of course has been offered free of charge by the AA for 18 months, and a spokesman says it works very well.

The course, called Drive Confident, is two hours of training, tailored to the individual. He says: "They may be afraid of driving on the motorway or late at night, or they may struggle with roundabouts. The course will cover whatever they need help with." He adds: "About 6,000 people so far have taken the course and it shows that with very little training people can upgrade their driving very quickly."

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The AA agrees with the report that this training ought to be voluntary rather than mandatory. The spokesman says: "If there was a compulsory course or testing people might worry unnecessarily and be unwilling to go through it, so they would lose their mobility."

The voluntary nature of the AA's courses encourages people to refer friends and family. "It might be a family member who suggests they go on a course. It's much more likely that they'll say 'hey I've heard about this course', than to report them to a compulsory scheme," he says.

Likewise, he says the AA works with police forces to identify those who could benefit from further training. He says: "If a force finds someone doing 22 miles an hour on the North Circular it could constitute a dangerous speed, but rather than prosecute them, they might advise them to go on the course."

Broader measures

The AA agrees with the report that mobility remains an essential consideration - alongside safety. The report said part of the process should be to improve public transport and road infrastructures in order to give people more choice. It says: "One of the simplest actions local authorities can take to improve the mobility of older people is the maintenance of pavements and footpaths."

It adds that one of the issues is that there is no central strategy for older people, and says that the government ought to begin a post of Minister for Older People and publish a national strategy for older people.

But what do you think? Will this make any difference, and is it fair on older drivers? Let us know in the comments.


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