Study calls for assessment of ‘unsafe’ older drivers

Is our fearful focus on older drivers justified or ageist?

Ageist focus on older drivers

Attacks on older drivers and their right to drive seems to be a higher priority in certain quarters than other more pressing road safety issues.

Despite figures showing older drivers are statistically less involved in serious or fatal crashes, the call for testing to identify older drivers who may be a danger to themselves and others continues.

The latest comes after a new study put 560 drivers aged 63 to 94 through their driving paces with a series of on-road and off-road driving tests. The Australian research findings published in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) concluded: “There is an urgent need to develop evidence-based assessments to identify older individuals who may be unsafe drivers.”

Participants in the study were divided into three groups: a control group; a group with minor cognitive impairments; and a group with vision impairments.

About 8 per cent of the control group failed the driving tests, as did 11 per cent of the impaired group and 20 per cent of the vision-impaired group. In the off-road screening tests, the study identified 77 per cent of drivers who also failed to pass an on-road test with a driving instructor. The off-road tests also cleared 82 per cent of those who went on to pass their on-road test, indicating the tests correctly classify safe drivers.

Of course, drawing conclusions from these results is fraught with danger. For one thing, where are benchmarks that indicate how well other age groups would perform?

The study was led by Professor Kaarin Anstey, University of New South Wales Ageing Futures Institute director and NeuRA senior principal research scientist.

She attributes her claim that road deaths among older Australians are increasing while the road toll is decreasing to our ageing population, which is leading to more older drivers on the road, and “because older drivers make more errors”.

She is wrong on a couple of counts. The road toll around Australia this year has actually increased in many states. Because there are statistically more older drivers on the road, a natural consequence is that they will be more highly represented in the road toll. Lumping all drivers over 65 as a homogeneous group is misleading (not only are there more older drivers, there are more older old drivers). And her claim that older drivers make more errors is unsubstantiated.

Is he more dangerous on the road than a young driver?

However, it is hard to argue with her claim that “these findings suggest that brief off-road screening tests could be a cost-effective, objective tool to screen older drivers to determine who might be an unsafe driver and to indicate referral for an on-road driving test, and that both off-road and on-road testing can help identify those unfit to drive”.

Our only disagreement is that if such testing can make a real difference and be implemented without huge expense and inconvenience (all of which we doubt), there is absolutely no reason why such testing should be confined to older drivers.

Bad behaviour on our roads is endemic. Impatience, lack of consideration, road rage, ignorance of the road rules, deliberately ignoring road rules and other dangerous on-road behaviour is hardly limited to older drivers. It is rarely older drivers who drive unlicensed, unregistered and uninsured or are involved in high-speed police chases. Older drivers aren’t repeat offenders who continue to drive after multiple licence cancellations.

And yet it is, once again, older drivers being singled out for special attention.

Older drivers are more likely to obey the rules, obey the speed limit and take fewer risks.

Lose your licence?
Prof. Anstey generously allowed that older drivers who fail a safety test won’t necessarily have to hand in their driver’s licence. Instead, testing can help identify drivers who require assistance or driving lessons in order to keep them on the roads safely.

Again, we ask, why is this limited to older drivers?

State by state older driver rules
At present, there is no nationwide screening program. As is the situation far too often across Australia, rules vary from state to state.


  • Drivers aged 75 and above are required to undergo annual medical assessments.
  • Driver aged 85 and above must undergo an annual medical assessment, plus a practical driving test every second year.


  • No special requirements for older drivers. Drivers are required to self-evaluate and seek medical advice about their fitness to drive.


  • Drivers over 75 years must have a valid medical certificate and have it renewed by a doctor every 13 months


  • Drivers aged over 80 are required to undergo an annual medical assessment before renewing their driving licence.
  • Beyond the age of 85, they may also be required to undergo a practical test.


  • Drivers aged 75 and over must complete a self-assessment form each year.


  • Drivers aged over 65 are only permitted to renew their licence for five-year periods.


  • Drivers over 75 must get an annual medical examination from their doctor.


  • No special requirements are applied to older drivers, but the NT Registrar of Motor Vehicles can order a driver of any age to prove they are medically fit and can pass a driving test.

Once again, older drivers are being singled out.

Taking responsibility for yourself
Driving is a privilege, not a right, and we all have an obligation that we don’t become a risk to ourselves or others on the roads.

Ask your doctor for advice about your fitness to drive, especially taking into account any illness, disability or medical condition you may have, or any medications you may be taking.

Any relevant conditions should be reported to your state or territory agency. Failure to report a medical condition, impairment or disability can not only jeopardise your life and the lives of others but may invalidate your insurance cover.

What do you think about testing and licence provisions that target older Australians? Do you think that it is fair or ageist?

This article first published as New study calls for assessment of unsafe older drivers on

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    11th Aug 2020
    Another good well-balanced article, Paul. As an infringement-free 79yo driver, I feel competent to add my observations. Bad driving is apparent across all age groups, more dangerously amongst those a lot younger than I am. Lack of knowledge of road rules is particularly evident nowadays. My pet hate involves U-turns at traffic lights - a hazardous manoeuvre at any time - illegal in SA unless a sign permits it (and sensibly there are very few such signs) but perfectly legal in other States (heaven knows why!) unless signs say you can't. Unfortunately most of us have driven pre-virus in other States and believe U-turns at lights are ok even in SA. Traffic rules were supposedly standardised in 1999, but there are still too many differences. State government media education campaigns are urgently needed to try and impress the finer points of driving on confused or ignorant minds. And perhaps really common Federal regulations finally can be arrived at.
    11th Aug 2020
    U-Turns at traffic lights are ILLEGAL in ALL states/territories except Victoria, have been for many, many years, well before the rules were unified in 1999.
    Karl Marx
    11th Aug 2020
    Well BillW41 I hope you don't drive outside of SA then as your knowledge QLD U turn laws need revising as Qld is the same as SA. Here's a link for you to learn QLD rules if ever you eventually venture into QLD.

    You can only make a U-turn at traffic lights when there is a U-turn permitted sign. When you are doing a U-turn, you must give way to all other vehicles and pedestrians—even if other vehicles are facing a give way or stop sign.

    At intersections without traffic lights or at breaks in the centre island of the road, you must not do a U-turn if there is a no U-turn sign.

    You must also not do a U-turn:

    across a single or double continuous centre line
    across a continuous centre line to the left of a broken line
    over a painted island in the centre of the road
    11th Aug 2020
    Same rules in WA as in SA.
    11th Aug 2020
    With the complexity I don't know why anyone would bother with a U turn at a traffic light, drive on until you find an easier place to U turn.
    As for who are the worst drivers, all age categories feature but the hoon element in older bombs seem to be the most impatient, certainly more than older drivers and P platers also in a hurry to get somewhere weaving in and out of lanes.
    What I find equally bad in SA is no vehicle checks ever, NSW once a car is 5 years old a safety check is required every year before registration can be renewed.
    11th Aug 2020
    Notice the lack of dating re this american journal. This has been published here before and is misleading as a 75 year old with an MR (mid range truck) licence and a forklift licence and a volunteer who drives a lot and sees the driving behaviour and skills of other similsr aged volunteer drivers all I can say is that we are safer than many much younger drivers and safer than most.
    11th Aug 2020
    This test may have been relevant if they tested an equal number of drivers from 18 to 94 and then compare the results.
    11th Aug 2020
    I also have a Medium Rigid licence and was driving fire trucks code one in a busy urban /country interface station until I retired at 68. I retired from active driving not because of my reflexes but because I was having night vision problems and didn't want to risk my crew or other road users. I saw bad behaviour on many occasions, often young drivers with their music turned up so loud they couldnt hear my sirens when I was directly behind them. They didnt see my flashing lights or notice a big red truck about to disappear up their exhaust pipe either. I've no doubt these drivers would pass a controlled driving test with full colours but lack of attention, arrogance and self entitlement invalidate their claim to be good drivers. Most oldies see the car as a necessary means of transport but young drivers seem to see it as a toy, a status symbol and a measure of power. I might add that these days some young drivers see a car as a mobile phone box.
    11th Aug 2020
    There is an issue with some, I emphasis some, older drivers who do pose a risk to not only themselves but others on the road. A hazard on the road is the driver who is driving below the speed limit to the point that they create an obstacle to other road users.
    An issue here is of course the impatient drivers, many of them young P platers who drive as if it is a race.
    The point I make is that there are drivers in all age groups on should not be driving not because of age but because of a lack of understanding of what is required to be safe on the road.
    At 80 years of age having driven in quite a few countries as well as ridden motorbikes for many years I get concerned at some of the things I see on the road. There is a real lack of concentration on the job at hand which is to arrive safely at your destination without creating difficulties for any other driver en-route. Combine this with the fact that many drivers reaction time is too slow to be in charge of a vehicle but that can be a function of the lack of concentration.
    It is a complex issue and while I do believe that there are bad drivers across all age groups older driver should be checked out once they have reached a certain age. I hate the thought of having to stop driving but I would prefer that to having to live with the thought I caused a situation where some one was killed or injured. I don't subscribe to the use of the word accident as that infers there was error or fault involved. Virtually every road incident involved a mistake or error of judgement.

    11th Aug 2020
    I have a simple request. The person conducting the study should be subject to a driving test and analysis, BEFORE she analyses assessment of other identity group capabilities. And are the University Professor qualifications driver analysis related.

    How many geniuses from University have the audacity to conduct analysis of other people over any range of topics, when their own capabilities are not assessed.

    It its prolific these days.
    11th Aug 2020
    I will add that I find young women as the combined force for disrespect towards other drivers. Tail gating, lane changing without room and with no indicators for starters.
    11th Aug 2020
    And you can add talking on the mobile phone. Not applicable to oldies.
    11th Aug 2020
    Graeme, while I can agree with your first paragraph about people conducting these studies I am sorry but must disagree with your last two.
    I have seen many older people using mobile phones while driving or when sitting at traffic lights.
    When taking my dogs for walks we cross a road with double /split crossing. Now I don't know about you, but I was always taught that if someone has started across then you have to stop regardless of which road you are on. I find drivers are just as likely not to give way to anyone crossing the road even when that person reaches the middle section.
    I don't disagree that there are many drivers who tailgate, change lanes on a whim, but it seems to be 99% of ALL drivers [not just young women]that never seem to indicate what they mean to do - or if they do they leave till 2 seconds before they do it. i.e. going round a corner.
    11th Aug 2020
    Hey Jaycee! I take it that I am referring to the protected gender under our cultural measures.

    Furthermore I would say that you are ABSOLUTELY in error to be expecting the right of way to lead your dogs across the road. Any road. In particular you should NOT expect a vehicle driver to stop just because you with a dog wish to cross that road, any road, double split or single road. Your comment is absolutely scary. You should not cause a driver to stop for ambient crossing of a road, with impact upon on-flowing traffic. An approved pedestrian crossing, or waiting for no vehicles is a more sensible idea. Is the road surface a ' challenge' arena?. Can I suggest that it is built for vehicular traffic.

    Overall jaycee1 please do not single out and justify concentration on identity politics (age group ie another ('ist' or 'ism') for driving as we do for most matters in our Society.
    11th Aug 2020
    jaycee - with crossing the road, are you talking about on a Zebra Crossing? Are you also saying that the road you're crossing has a median or central area where you can stand/wait if need be?

    If so there is NO requirement for drivers on the other carriageway to stop for you until you are near ready to cross, ie: you start walking across the first lanes going in one direction and vehicles can keep going on the carriageway in the other direction UNTIL you are ready to cross that carriageway.
    13th Aug 2020
    OK Graeme,
    You can obviously read and write but your comprehension skills are sadly lacking.
    I have just reread what I wrote and NOWHERE does it say that I expect drivers to stop and let me cross BEFORE I am actually ON the crossing.
    Now I just checked to make sure I was right and the website states: You must give way to pedestrians when on a crossing regardless of if it is single or a double crossing.

    "It’s the law across all states and territories of Australia to give way to pedestrians crossing at designated pedestrian crossings. These are indicated by white stripes across the road and signs positioned before the crossing.
    If there’s a dividing strip in the middle of the pedestrian crossing, you must remain stationary until the pedestrian has passed that middle point. If there’s no dividing strip, you have to remain stopped until the pedestrian has fully crossed the crossing and reached the footpath at the other side of the road. "

    So yes Greg I am talking about a zebra crossing or ANY marked crossing that has median area that separates the two roads [or any marked crossing single or double].
    Once a pedestrian is ON the crossing then they have right of way.
    13th Aug 2020
    jaycee1 -

    " have to remain stopped until the pedestrian has fully crossed the crossing and reached the footpath at the other side of the road"

    Where did you copy that from? That is NOT the rule as part of the Australian Road Rules which were agreed to by all states/territories (except WA) on the 1st Dec 1999.

    Yes you Give Way to pedestrians on crossings. The words Give Way mean to "Slow and/or stop to avoid a collision", if the pedestrian is on another carriageway or has past your vehicle and walking away across the remainder of the road drivers can start moving BEFORE the pedestrian is off the roadway.

    Children's Crossings are different, with them you must Stop and wait until all pedestrians are off the road and if there is a supervisor there wait until thy give a sign you can go.

    Which state are you in?
    13th Aug 2020
    Jaycee, your understanding of zebra crossings is the same applied in WA when I got my licence. Indeed back then drivers were required to stop if safe to do so if there was a pedestrian at/entering the crossing, not just on it.

    This was different to the rules in Victoria, where at zebra crossings, drivers were allowed to continue driving once pedestrians are out of the way however this is no longer the case.
    13th Aug 2020
    Greg, rule 81(2) "(2) A driver must give way to any pedestrian on or entering a pedestrian crossing."
    13th Aug 2020
    jaycee1 - Here, these a good video on this page, take note at the 1 minute mark, the driver starts moving when the pedestrians are still on the crossing. Also read the differences between Children's and regular crossings.
    13th Aug 2020
    Farside - Yes, Give Way. What does the term Give Way mean???

    From the NSW Roads Rules Legislation:"

    "give way, for a driver or pedestrian, means—
    (a) if the driver or pedestrian is stopped—remain stationary until it is safe to proceed, or
    (b) in any other case—slow down and, if necessary, stop to avoid a collision."
    13th Aug 2020
    Farside - The rules regarding Pedestrian Crossings and Children's Crossings have been identical in every state/territory since 1st Dec 1999. When I obtained my licence in 1980 the rules were the same as they are now, here's an extract from the Road Rules as at 1st June 1981:

    "39. (1) A driver shall give way to any pedestrian who is on a pedestrian
    (2) (a) A driver approaching a school crossing shall-
    (i) stop his vehicle; and
    (ii) cause it to remain stationary,
    while any pedestrian is on the crossing.
    (b) Where there is a stop line on the approach side of a school crossing
    any stop made pursuant to this subregulation (2) shall be made before reaching and as near as practicable to the stop line.
    (3) A driver shall not permit any portion of his vehicle to enter upon a pedestrian crossing if any vehicle headed in the same direction is stopped on the
    approach side of or upon such pedestrian crossing apparently for the purpose of
    complying with this Regulation."

    NOTE it says under (2)(a)(ii) "cause it to remain stationary, while any pedestrian is on the crossing" BUT that is referring to a SCHOOL CROSSING as they were called back then.

    Current Road Rules are 80, 81 (WA 61, 62). No where in the legislation does it say you must wait until all pedestrians are off the crossing EXCEPT when it's a Children's Crossing.

    People are taught different things by a multitude of different driving instructors, many of them don't know the road rules as good as they should OR just teach certain things to aid in the person passing their test. Things like stopping for three seconds at a Stop Sign, it's not required but some instructors teach that very "rule" to ensure the learner does Stop properly. I would suggest that you have been taught by someone who has modified the rule for crossings to ensure the learner always Stops correctly for Children's Crossings by just teaching to always wait for pedestrians to be off the crossing before moving.

    I've been involved with road rules around this country for the last twenty years, I know them thoroughly for every state/territory.

    By the way he's the crossing rules from 1962, note the wording is the same or very similar as from 1981:

    "Pedestrian crossings
    39.(1) A driver shall give way to any pedestrian who is on a pedestrian
    (2) A driver approaching a school crossing shall stop his or her vehicle
    and cause it to remain stationary—
    (a) if any pedestrian is on the crossing;
    (b) if an official traffic sign inscribed with the word ‘stop’ in black
    lettering on a red-orange fluorescent background is displayed to
    face the driver;
    s 40 67
    Traffic Regulation 1962
    s 40
    and shall not permit any portion of his or her vehicle to enter upon the
    school crossing while any pedestrian is upon such school crossing or while
    any such sign is so displayed.
    (2A) Where there is a stop line on the approach side of a school crossing
    any stop made pursuant to subsection (2) shall be made before reaching and
    as near as practicable to the stop line.
    (3) A driver shall not permit any portion of his or her vehicle to enter
    upon a pedestrian crossing if any vehicle headed in the same direction is
    stopped on the approach side of or upon such pedestrian crossing
    apparently for the purpose of complying with this section."
    14th Aug 2020
    Greg, I am not disputing the unified laws in relation to giving way, simply that Rule 81 is different to back in the 70s in WA. The laws then made no distinction between ordinary crossings and children crossings and you were required to remain stationary while someone was on the crossing. I quickly became aware of the difference when I moved to Vic in the 90s when the pedestrian was on the other half of the road. Nevertheless I still stop until young kids clear the crossing rather than enforcing rights.
    11th Aug 2020
    My sister lives in Tasmania. Studies in that State showed that it was not the older drivers causing accidents. Economic modelling also showed that the costs involved in testing older drivers against their accident statistics was not only a waste of money, but a waste of time and unnecessarily burdensome on medical practitioners. If driver categories are to be singled out, imo Asian drivers routinely fall into a "driver risk" category. Most people I know have commented on their poor driving capabilities.
    Horace Cope
    11th Aug 2020
    "What do you think about testing and licence provisions that target older Australians? Do you think that it is fair or ageist?"

    It would be nice if all states and territories were to standardise road laws and rules around testing older drivers. I agree that medical assessments should be carried out although my experience of these leaves me to wonder why they are done. I handed my GP the form and his only question was to ask if I wore spectacles while driving. two minutes later he handed me the form, complete with an eye test, which classed me as medically fit. A driving test in NSW seems to suggest that a test as a 17yo is good for 68 years without any further testing which in itself is ridiculous. Maybe tests at random to cover, say, 5% of drivers every year?

    I have a different take on driving and how to lower crashes and that is to put more police out on the road to catch those drivers, of whatever age, who break the law. I drive to the posted speed limit, not because I'm a goody goody old fart, as I don't like to waste my small pile of money on something that can be avoided. I get overtaken by others who have to breaking the law and they do so with impunity as there are not enough police to patrol the area. We are told that the police numbers in this state are acceptable but within that number are members on annual leave, sick leave, stress leave, long service leave and compo. The shortage in police stations is filled by taking highway patrol officers off the road and into the police station.
    11th Aug 2020
    Motor bike riders when first starting out are only allowed to ride smaller powered bikes, I think that once any driver reaches a certain age [65, 70] they should not be allowed to drive the heavier more powerful cars.
    This should also apply to learners, P platers or anyone who has not driven for 5 years continually.
    Horace Cope
    11th Aug 2020
    Nice generalisation jaycee1 and if your suggestion was followed you will have cut out my weekly volunteering work driving a bus for retired veterans, some disabled, for a nice day out. I hold a heavy vehicle licence and have had for over 50 years. You will also stop a lot of grey nomads driving their motorhomes and towing caravans as Ford Fiestas are not usually sold as a vehicle for towing caravans.
    11th Aug 2020
    jaycee!!!! The example of our next leaders of this country
    11th Aug 2020
    Jaycee 1, I am still riding my fairly powerful motorcycle at 77 and am still driving a 13 tonne Fire truck under emergency conditions and off-road. I can assure you I am still capable. Perhaps you should read up about how to cross a road with your dogs or hand in your dog-walking licence. :-)
    13th Aug 2020
    Graeme, don't you know that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.
    Considering the mess the government has gotten us into then having a change cerrtainly couldn't be any worse.

    Horace Cope and Theo1943, Just because you are able to do it does not mean everyone else can or, for that matter, should. There are always exceptions to everything.
    11th Aug 2020
    Unless there is a non-aged control group, these findings do not show that older drivers are less safe. So yes, it is a flawed study, and is ageist.

    In fact there should be regular checks on all drivers. Get your licence at 18 and that's it until you hit 70? Then and only then somebody says, let's take a closer look?
    What could possibly go wrong?
    11th Aug 2020
    Like some others here, I have held a heavy articulated licence and an open m/bike licence, each for over 50 years. Major problem drivers I have come across are young women - rude, aggressive, inconsiderate, tailgaters, racing for place in merging lanes - and drivers of 4wd SUVs to whom (male and female) the same criticisms apply as for young women.
    With those in SUVs, I am sure the aggressive driving shown in TV adverts for these Toorak / Nedlands tractors is a contributing factor. The ads show not only what the tractors can do, but also seem to show aggressive behaviour as both expected and supported.
    11th Aug 2020
    "The latest comes after a new study put 560 drivers aged 63 to 94 through their driving paces with a series of on-road and off-road driving tests". To have any validity this exercise should have been conducted with drivers of all age groups. Otherwise, it is merely a witch hunt conducted against older drivers. The Professor set out to prove her point with misleading statistics that eliminated other ages of drivers.
    BTW how about asking the insurance companies whether they think a 21-year-old is a better risk than a healthy 70 year old?
    11th Aug 2020
    Well, things have changed, haven't they! I really must re-educate my Victorian nephew. Obviously a lot of drivers still think U-turns are legal regardless of signage. I see lots of them wherever I drive, although I haven't driven outside SA for several months. Saw an offence here two days ago. I was last in QLD two years ago and ignorance there was evident then. The point is, rules are still not the same from State to State and confusion continues. Signage and education are essential.
    12th Aug 2020
    Just passed my practical driving test in NSW last Friday because I had turned 85 last June (mid coronavirus isolation). Have been required to submit a medical report each year since I turned 75. The practical' driving test was stressful for me because of two failed appointments before I actually managed to drive around the required route. First cancellation was because of very heavy rain and wind, the second was because my car sprang a water leak the day before the test and had to have repairs done ($400 later). Have been driving continuously for 64 years (no lost points). Learned from the first driving school in my town on a dual-controlled Morris Minor. Went for my initial test in the rain (again) with a red plastic raincoat on. Had to give hand signals in those days - no blinkers yet. When I put my hand out the window to signal, I got my raincoat wet and the red dye ran all over my arm. During test, decided I was going too fast and tried to slow down on the brake. When I looked down at the floor I saw that my driving inspector was pressing on the dual accelerator as I was going too slow.
    Before this second test, I boned up on some new rules in a book provided by the RMS. I believe the threat of a test made me more aware of my driving skills (or errors) and I now endeavour to drive well for as long as my health will let me.
    My sister, 83 years old and living in WA, had her licence renewed recently without being required to do a practical test. In NSW I could have renewed my licence without a practical test if I accepted a limit of a radius of 15 Km in which to drive. That's not far enough for me to visit relatives.
    Has anyone thought that holding a cup of coffee in one hand while driving is almost as bad as using a mobile phone? It takes 2 hands to drive safely and give the proper signals with the blinkers.
    14th Aug 2020
    Just more discrimination of older people Doesnt matter That statistics show we are less likely to be dangerous.driving under the influent of alcohol or drugs. Just lets persecute them anyway .gov has spent last two years persecuting pensioners and welfare recipients why not take on this some ministers have got the me me syndrome got to look like they doing something for their money when all they are are just a pack of bloody lazy grubs.what is gov up to while everyone is getting rubbish like this shoved in there none of them they are lowest of low .

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