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Addressing the age-old question of driver safety

Addressing the age-old question of driver safety

As the population of drivers becomes older, reflecting demographics, their safety on the roads is being called into question.

A recent article by The Telegraph referred to new statistics by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which show that the average life expectancy of people in the UK is now creeping towards 82. 

Key findings from the Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: Older Drivers factsheet 2020 by the Department for Transport show that the number of over 70s with a full UK driving licence has increased by 23.6% from 4.5million in 2016 to 5.6 million in 2020.

It also indicates that failing to look properly is a contributing factor attributed to older drivers in 42.6% of collisions.

Interestingly, despite these rising statistics, the number of killed or seriously injured (KSI) casualties in road traffic accidents involving drivers over the age of 70 has actually decreased to 2,116 in 2020, compared with between 3,000 and 3,500 in the period 2011 to 2019.

Currently, drivers must reapply for their licence when they reach the age of 70 and confirm that they do not have any medical conditions which might affect their ability to drive safely. Thereafter, they must reapply every three years. 

The issue is that there is no formal medical examination required by older drivers to prove their fitness to drive. 

Associate professor in psychology at Nottingham University and expert in the field of older drivers Peter Chapman told The Telegraph, “The most likely issue for older drivers is the glare from lights at night-time – the contrast can be difficult.

“Neck mobility is another factor. The ability to move their neck quickly to look left and right at a junction tends to be much slower than that of younger drivers, and that’s relevant to why older drivers are more prone to having accidents at junctions.

“Another factor is how much cars have changed. Roads actually haven’t changed that much, but cars have, and while a driver who has been on the road for 50 years may have great essential driving skills, that length of experience can also make it harder to adjust to modern car interfaces. 

He added that many older drivers are aware of their own risk factors. “Many drivers over 70 are retired, and will choose routes and times that suit them, perhaps avoiding driving at night and often also tending to avoid unfamiliar or very busy areas.”

The Older Drivers Task Force, set up by Hampshire Constabulary, campaigns to support safe driving into old age. In a recent publication it stated, “Consideration should be given to introducing mandatory eyesight testing with an optometrist or ophthalmic medical practitioner providing a driver ‘MOT’ of eyesight at licence renewal at the age of 70, and at subsequent renewals. If this is implemented, then the NHS contract for free eyesight tests for those aged 60 and above would need to be amended, so that drivers of 70 and above could have a more detailed ‘MOT’ eyesight test.”

This recommendation forms part of the Supporting Safe Driving into Old Age report, which sets out a national older driver strategy and reached the House of Commons on July 4 2022.

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