Mandatory tests for over-70s not fair, RACV says

Drivers aged over 70 in some states need to complete medical fitness tests each year to keep their licence, while drivers in other states have no such restrictions What is the fairest way to keep our roads safe without descending into ageism?

James Williams, head of policy at RACV, joined host John Deeks on the YourLifeChoices podcast this week to discuss how best to assess older drivers’ abilities – without discriminating against them.

Mr Williams says he is particularly put out by testing requirements in New South Wales, where drivers over 70 have to undergo a medical assessment every year in order to keep their licence, regardless of their actual medical fitness.

But in his home state of Victoria, there is no such requirement. Mr Williams says this double-standard is both unfair and ineffective – as the road toll between the two states shows.

“If you look at the road toll and where the fatalities are, in which demographics, we can see that there is no significant difference in terms of seniors being overrepresented in the road toll between Victoria and New South Wales,” he says.

“There’s no significant improvement in the road toll in New South Wales because they have this additional bureaucracy.”

Mr Williams says RACV supports Victoria’s approach to older drivers, where they require annual testing only if the driver has a demonstrable impairment, and not just for reaching a certain age.

“We at RACV support the Victorian approach,” he says.

“We think that impairment is key to safe driving ability, not age. And that’s reflected in the numbers.”

“The road toll in Victoria, if you look at the demographics, certainly there are people aged 70-plus that are responsible for road crashes, but they’re not overrepresented.

And it’s not as if Victoria is not testing people to weed out bad drivers either, Mr Williams says.

“VicRoads assessed 90,000 Victorian motorists last year for their fitness to drive and made a call on whether they should keep their licence or not,” he explains.

“Of that 90,000, only 30 per cent were seniors. The vast majority are people with a fitness to drive issue, a medical issue.

He says punishing older drivers simply for being older is not only ageist, but illogical. He points to insurance premiums as a real guide to which ages and demographic are most prone to accidents.

“Where they [accident rates] are overrepresented is in men aged between 20 and 35,” says Mr Williams.

“That’s really where we need to target our efforts if we want to see significant improvement in the road toll. And that’s not about impairment, by and large. That’s really about driving style and risk taking.”

If Victoria’s approach to drivers is commendable, what do you make of the NSW legislation? Do you think it’s necessary?

“No, because it’s [older drivers being dangerous] not reflected in the road toll,” he says.

“We’re not seeing an improvement in the NSW road toll with that age group. We should see an improvement. It should be significantly better in New South Wales if they are having a fitness to drive test after a certain age.”

The rules differ between the states here in Australia, but how do jurisdictions overseas handle this issue? Are age-based driving tests common in other parts of the world?

The majority of OECD countries though do not have any fitness to drive requirement that isn’t based on medical advice,” says Mr Williams.

He says aged driving policies in most countries more closely resemble Victoria’s and more often than not involve the driver’s doctor being involved.

“It’s saying the GP or the family or the driver has identified that there’s an impairment or a potential impairment.”

Mr Williams says he’d like to see similar legislation across all Australian states and territories.

“We would like to see GPs in particular be better armed by government, better educated and aware of the issues around fitness to drive,” he says.

Do you think it’s fair drivers in some states need to be tested every year? Should there be uniform rules nationally? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Most common mistakes made by older drivers

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. In Queensland, every driver over 70 or 75, ( can’t remember which ) has to be checked by your GP, and have an eye test. I know I had this every year or when I renewed my licence, whereas here in Tasmania, you pay your $10.00 yes $10 and that is it, no tests each year, the $10 licence lasts 5 years,then you just renew for another 5 years, I don”t think you pay any more fee, but I could be wrong, my licencee expires next year. I changed my licence from Qld to Tas when I moved down. I remember being shocked at the price here, $10, compared to what you pay in Qld, $70 for one year, $100 for 2 years, no concessions for pensioners either. I believe they are free to Pensioners in NSW.

  2. I think it isn’r a bad idea, your GP checking your health, particularly your heart, there are enough accidents caused by a person having a ‘Medical episode’. Picking up a dodgy heart could save your life , and that of others.

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