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Blog: Should older drivers be re-tested?

Are older drivers a menace on the roads? Motoring journalist Maria McCarthy argues that older drivers can and should continue to self-regulate their driving skills.

Can you remember the effort involved in taking your first driving test?

Remember scraping together the money for lessons, finding the right instructor, perfecting your bay parking and dealing with the horror of driving test nerves?

Now imagine doing that again. Only this time you're 70, living on a pension and probably haven't taken an exam in over 50 years.

Daunting, isn't it?

85% back a re-test

But according to a recent survey by independent think tank International Longevity Centre-UK, 85 per cent of people believe that older drivers should be re-tested at some point.

So if they got their way, that's exactly what would happen – and what we all would have to face as we got older!

And this proposal has other high-profile fans.

In 2008, the former television news presenter Anna Ford, 68, said she believed in driving tests for the over-70s.

While, ex-racing driver Stirling Moss is on record as saying that he feels older drivers should be "re-evaluated". 

If this goes ahead it would involve a massive injection of resources, especially as the older driver population is increasing.

Increase in older drivers

Department for Transport (DfT) figures show there were 3.2 million drivers over 70 on the road in 2007 but it expects this to rise to 4.5 million by 2015.

How it works at the moment is that upon reaching 70, drivers have to reapply for a driving licence every three years and complete a medical declaration that they are fit to drive.

However, this is a self-assessment and doesn't involve a visit to the doctor. 

Some people argue that older drivers might not be honest or even aware of deteriorating abilities such as stiff joints or declining night vision.

And some of these concerns are valid - between the ages of 15 and 65 the recovery time from glare increases from 2 to 9 seconds.

That means that as we age, coping with the dazzle from oncoming headlights when driving at night is going to get harder.

Older drivers, fewer crashes

But despite this, research by the DfT shows that there is no age-related increase in the number of accidents for the over-60s.

Older drivers in fact have fewer crashes than younger ones. This is due to a number of factors.

Older motorists drive more cautiously than testosterone-fuelled young men, who have the highest crash rate.

Self-regulation

Older drivers also tend to 'self-regulate' – that is, they have a realistic view of their abilities and cut back to avoid more stressful driving conditions (motorways, night driving) as they age.

But retaining their licences means that older people can still enjoy the freedom which comes from socialising and shopping locally.

Personally, I have to say that I'm in favour of a driving health assessment for older drivers.

It wouldn't involve a scary trip to the test centre but it would cover flexibility and eyesight checks and a review of any medication the person might be on that would influence their driving ability.

Live and let live

But apart from that, I'm in favour of a live and let live approach.

Dr Craig Berry, head of policy at the International Longevity Centre-UK says: "There is little evidence that more draconian methods of testing older people will lead to safer roads.

"I feel that older drivers should be supported in self-regulating their driving." 

Personally, I live in an area where a large proportion of the population is over retirement age and I've seen several of my neighbours gradually cut down and then give up their cars as they've got older.

For those of us who want to keep going as long as we safely can, Muriel Gladwin is an inspiration.

Muriel gave up her car in 2008 at the age of 94. She'd had 82 years on the roads without an accident and when she gave up driving she said "I want to quit while I'm ahead". 

What do you think? Do you agree with Maria that older drivers should have a driving health assessment with flexibility and eyesight checks, or should they have to re-sit a full driving test? Share your thoughts on the comments board below. 




Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy is a motoring and lifestyle journalist and author of The Girls' Car Handbook and The Girls' Guide to Losing your L Plates published by Simon and Schuster. She's also a regular on BBC Breakfast news, and local and national radio, commenting on motoring matters. Her pet motoring hates are potholes and high fuel prices.

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