Experts call for nationwide testing for older drivers

Knowing when to give up the keys, or when to take them from an older relative, is tricky. But with older drivers in one state responsible for a shockingly high number of road fatalities and injuries, is it time to take a harder stance?

Driving a car is a key part of living an independent life. Without driving, your transport options, and therefore your options to move around, are severely limited. The effect is compounded for older people and people living in remote areas.

It’s no secret that our driving skills tend to lose their edge as we age. Eyesight deteriorates, your reaction times are slower and your chances of being involved in an accident increase dramatically.

But admitting to yourself that your driving skills are no longer up to scratch is understandably tough. Actually hanging up the car keys for good is another matter entirely.

The problem gets even worse if it’s not you, but an older relative whose driving abilities are causing concern. If the driver doesn’t feel there’s anything wrong, then trying to stop them from driving could be seen as an attack on them and a threat to their independence.

But properly assessing a person’s ability to drive safely is a matter of life and death – as residents of Victoria are only too aware.

Fatality figures

In the past five years, drivers aged 65 and over have been responsible for at least 145 fatalities and more than 7000 injuries on Victorian roads, according to analysis from The Age.

Around two-thirds of deaths (97) and a little over one-quarter (1868) of injuries were the at-fault older drivers themselves. The remainder were other drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists.

In NSW, Queensland, WA and the ACT, drivers aged 75 and over are subject to annual medical assessments to ensure they are still fit to drive.

But in Victoria, SA and Tasmania, no such requirement exists for car licence holders. Now, health and legal experts are calling for a nationwide policy to be implemented to stop the confusion.

Dr Michael Clements, vice-president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners told News Limited he would like to see stricter testing for older people introduced in the state.

“We’re calling on the government to consider making these annual health checks just part of routine business and making it mandatory, just like it is in other states,” he said.

“Our ability to respond to shocks, changes in weather conditions, kids running out on the roads chasing a ball, all of those things happen quite suddenly.”

But Chris Potaris, former chief executive of the Council on the Ageing Victoria, hit back against the proposal, calling mandatory driving tests for older motorists “ageist and arbitrary”.

“We continue to support Victoria’s approach, which emphasises a driver’s behaviour and medical fitness to operate a motor vehicle,” he said.

Ability, not age

“Driving should be based on ability, not on age.”

He said the introduction of mandatory testing could also lead to additional costs for older motorists, potentially forcing people to give up their licence before they are ready. This could, in turn, further fuel social isolation and possibly even cause people to enter aged care before they wish.

Figures from VicRoads show more than 993,000 people aged 65 and over hold a driver’s licence in Victoria, and comprise almost 20 per cent of total licence holders. This figure is up from 15.8 per cent just 10 years ago.

As our population ages, this proportion of older drivers will only grow, so perhaps it is finally time for a national older-driver-assessment scheme of some sort.

Do you think testing older drivers annually is fair? Or is it just another form of age discrimination? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Also read: Even good drivers make mistakes

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyer
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.


  1. This is absolutely ageism, rules should be the same for everyone, a persons ability to drive should be based on lots of different criteria, if only one state is showing older drivers are responsible for more accidents than other drivers, doesn’t that mean all the other states and territories have more younger drivers being responsible for accidents than older drivers, that being the case then younger drivers should be getting tested on their ability to drive. I have been driving for 60 years and yes my reflexes are probably slower than they were in my youth, but surely my experience in driving to the conditions will compensate for the slowing of my reflexes, this argument comes up every few years, the so called experts must be having a slow day. I have driven large trucks, buses and other forms of transport in many countries, I would put my expertise for driving to the conditions on all types of roads above drivers who only drive around towns on perfect roads.

    • I live in rural NSW & my husband & I are over 75 and have to go for a health check each year which is the only time I go to a Dr (I don’t feel I need to) when I turned 75 & got to the Drs surgery he wouldn’t do the health check because I hadn’t been to a Dr for a number of years and I had to go for a blood test before he would do the health check which meant I was on the last minute having the check as I am always busy doing volunteer work. I don’t tend to drive out of town at night, for my safety as there are lots of trucks on the roads. My husband has driven large trucks during his working life & is still fine to drive. It is discrimination against the elderly. In our area we have more youth under 25 in accidents than the elderly. Although I do disagree with Dr’s giving a clean bill of health to elderly who have got onset of dementia. We had my mothers-in-law spark plugs removed from her car (20 yrs ago) so she couldn’t drive when she was at that time of her life.

  2. My mother(a NSW resident) recently turned 85 and had to do a fitness to drive assessment which included having her GP fill out an online form about her health and her eye specialist to also fill out an online form plus she had to pay $100 for an assessor to assess her driving skills. My mother was so anxious and nervous in the lead up to this assessment but luckily I had read all I could and saw wear she could re sit the assessment as many times as necessary within two months of her failing the initial assessment which put her at ease a little. I rang a few different assessors until I found a lovely private assessor who with me decided to tell y mother that this was just a refresher course before the assessment. Again, this put at ease and on the day, she got a lovely surprise when he passed her. I don’t think older people should be subject to such stress at their time of life, luckily my mum has a strong heart otherwise I’m sure she would have had a heart attack in the lead up to her assessment. Young, stupid boys are the cause of most deaths in car accidents…bloody well test them every two years as well not just the oldies. What’s fair for one is fair for the other. Not happy with older people having to be assessed!

  3. Time to look at the P platers who swerve in and out of traffic and of course the macho hoon lead foots probably high on ice , not the mention the tradies another lot that are always tailgaiting and in a hurry.

  4. It is a hard one; there is a lot of ageism involved. 5 years ago I had an altercation with a metal sign post that been knocked down by another vehicle and left without any indication that I should be aware of it; the first thing that the policeman said after looking at my licence was ” should you be driving ?” I was 75
    I have never had an accident before or since that traumatic incident.
    If I get to the point where I feel I shouldn’t drive I will hand in my licence myself. If I don’t I am sure someone else will advise me to do it.
    Being independent is so important and shouldn’t be taken away, arbitrarily.
    You know what they say ” Lies, lies and statistics !”

  5. I am an older driver but what I see and have to deal with of road behavior of the younger generations just leave me aghast. The weaving in and out the changing lanes with no indication, the super speed no matter the speed limit, driving up so close behind me you would think they wanted to link up and be carried along! The driving standards of so many today make driving on our roads a challenge for all not just so called ‘older people’ but for everyone. Time to check out the ‘young ones’ rather than the aged I would say.

  6. In Australia in General Aviation all Private Pilots must have both a Medical and a Flight Review every two years regardless of age.
    In reality I think that all drivers should have an assessment every ten years regardless of health partly to ensure that the driver is up to date with those changes to the Road Rules that get slipped in.
    I have an aunt who has had her Licence renewed last November as fit to drive and she is 99 and living independently in the country. She needs her Licence to get to town for shopping but when needing to attend medical appointments further away either her son or daughter-in-law will drive her to the bigger town.
    Within the past two months there was a serious single vehicle crash just north of Brisbane where the elderly male drive had a “medical episode” and this resulted in the death of at least one of his passengers. Whether it was that “medical episode” that killed him or the crash is unclear, but he killed an immediate family member in the ensuing collision with road side trees.
    Whether these “medical episode” coming from an identified pre-existing condition is a point of concern. Some people will continue to drive regardless of whether they are aware of the risk or not.

  7. I agree that as you get older your reflexes are slower, but I know I am a lot more cautious now than when I was younger. Some older drivers do cause accidents, but what about all the accidents caused by P Platers , the way the young ones take over and speed is frightening . I suggest you test them on their driving abilities before you point your finger at the elderly.

  8. I live in SA, have multiple health issues and DO have to have a Driving Assessment Form completed each year by my Doctor. I’ve driven as a passenger with younger people and shuddered, same as with older people. I also had multiple driving lessons with a trained instructor when I learned but these days it’s so expensive many of the younger generation only learn by going with friends and relatives. I recently had a conversation with some younger people about people’s inability to park properly,i.e. within the lines, but said I don’t mind parallel parking. The response, ‘awh, wouldn’t try that, I just keep driving around until I can find a vertical park. Where I live, semi-rural, they’re usually younger drivers, single car into a tree accidents and fatalities

  9. I’m happy with the requirements in NSW. Medical assessment and eye test each year from age 75 (I am 76) and driving assessment from age 85 (my husband is 86). Both of us are in really good health and still have our wits about us. My husband did his 85 driving test and was only chastised for not looking in the rear view mirror enough times. His next test is in Dec this year.

  10. I drive. I’m 76 years old and have driven for 55 years. I cannot believe the standard of driving on the roads today. No indicators, crossing three lanes to get to a right turn just ahead etc, the standard of driving is so bad that I question if there are drivers out there without license. And it not old people. The worst are ‘P’ platers who think they know everything. Yet no-one gets picked up for bad driving. A joke.

  11. Im an older driver..Each year I do some simple tests and have eye checks..Both my husband and myself have regular checkups with our doctor who is well aware of our wellbeing…If I felt I had a problem driving Id see my doctor – if he had doubts on my ability he would send me for further tests or suggest I give up driving… I think that regular driving tests for P platers, and younger drivers should be mandatory until say 21 – probably yearly until that age…and/or tests should be required if anyone, no matter what age, is pulled over for a misdemeanor such as driving too fast, driving erratically, etc, etc, etc..This should be mandatory either instead of fines, or including fines..and proof of tests should be compulsory.. I also think that making older people take tests that include extra costs is horrific considering many are pensioners and have limited income. If such tests are required then the government should pay for them, not the individual.

  12. Just ageist!
    I can quite easily draw up a set of statistics to interpret any argument for and against any age group.
    Too many academics and public servants with too much time on their hands.
    Perhaps a better use of time and money might be spending more time designing our road system to have less traffic lights and more around abouts
    The respect shown to People of Age in Australia is sadly decreasing as evidenced by the current Governments lack of priority through all matters Agedcare .
    This includes the lack of respect paid by the Prime Minister by not visiting an Aged person brutality bashed by an immigrant mismanaged by his Government.
    This Govt will get a big shock when it realises it has lost the Agedcare vote this time around.
    More policy development and less spin.

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