Older drivers not the problem

Driving a car is an important part of life for millions of us, and just because we stop working doesn’t mean we need our cars less. Driving provides freedom and independence, but for any age group – not just seniors – it also involves risk.

While experienced drivers are obviously safer than those with less experience, as we age, our eyesight, general health and reaction times may decline, possibly making driving a little less safe.

And although age-related conditions can eventually negatively affect our driving, it doesn’t mean age alone will force you to hang up your keys.

Being unsafe on the roads is not necessarily an age-related issue – just ask our members, who told us there isn’t an age at which we automatically become unsafe drivers.

But as stoic as older drivers can be, there may come a time when we should spend less time on the road or quit driving altogether.

To that end, we conducted a Friday Flash Poll: Should you really still be driving to find out how you feel about compulsory testing and whether or not you thought you’d have to get out from behind the wheel any time soon.

Our poll had 1674 respondents, eight per cent of whom were aged 60-64, 26 per cent 65-69, 30 per cent 70-74, 21 per cent 75-79 and eight per cent 80-84.

We learnt that 99 per cent of respondents are still driving, with 26 per cent driving 50 kilometres or less each week, 29 per cent 51-100 kilometres and 28 per cent behind the wheel for between 101 and 200 kilometres per week. Just 17 per cent drive more than 200 kilometres. In the last two years, 94 per cent said they had not been involved in a road accident.

While 51 per cent do not avoid any driving conditions, 24 per cent avoid driving at night, 12 per cent stay off the roads in bad weather, five per cent avoid long trips and four per cent stay out of heavy traffic.

When asked if losing the ability to drive would be an issue, 39 per cent said it would be a very serious problem, 27 per cent said it would be somewhat serious and 24 per cent said it would be a moderate problem. Only eight per cent said it would be a minor problem and for three per cent, it wouldn’t be a problem at all.

“Mobility is crucial to the independence and quality of life of older people. It is far cheaper to assist older people to continue an independent life in their own home. The needs of older people should be taken into account in town planning and transport policy,” wrote YourLifeChoices member LJ.

Most people agree that an annual driving assessment should be mandatory (70 per cent), with 29 per cent saying that should take place from the age of 80 and 25 per cent saying it should be once you turn 75.

Research shows that crash patterns change significantly for drivers over the age of 80, with most accidents occurring due to misjudgement. As a result, annual tests and doctors’ assessments are obligatory in most states and territories.

In New South Wales, holders of car licences must have a medical test before they turn 75. Once they reach 85, they must choose between an unrestricted licence or a modified licence. The ‘home-to-town condition’ applied to a modified licence means drivers can travel only in a limited area in which they are familiar. If a driver chooses the unrestricted option, they must undertake a practical driving assessment each year.

In Victoria, you don’t have to do a test, but once you’re over 75, your licence is valid for three years instead of 10.

Once you turn 80 in Western Australia, you’ll need to have a medical assessment to renew your licence. Driving tests for over 85s are only required on doctor’s advice.

Everyone over the age of 75 in Queensland needs an annual signed doctor’s form to continue driving and in the ACT, drivers aged 75 or older need an annual doctor’s examination to renew their licence.

South Australian drivers with no medical conditions require an annual DIY assessment from the age of 75. Anyone with a medical condition or impairment needs an annual doctor’s assessment.

In the Northern Territory, you need to notify the Motor Vehicle Registry of any medical conditions you have that may affect your driving ability. Tasmanian drivers over the age of 75 require an annual medical assessment and a possible driving test.

While most agree that compulsory tests over a certain age are a good idea, YourLifeChoices member GingerMeggs says some younger drivers could also do with the odd assessment.

“Young drivers who have a bad driving record or crash record should be forced to spend a day or more doing advanced driver training to learn some decent driver skills and knowledge of the road rules – at their personal expense as part of the court order against them, or as a way to reduce the restrictions imposed on them by loss of driver points. If the law makers open their eyes they can see this would be a real help and provide some more jobs for the road safety industry,” he wrote.

While 27 per cent of respondents say they expect to stop driving once they’re over 85, 23 per cent say over 80 and 12 per cent say over 90. Almost one in three (28 per cent) say they never expect to stop driving.

The reasons people say they will stop driving are slower reflexes (29 per cent), inability to judge road and traffic conditions (22 per cent) and medical impairment (17 per cent). Only six per cent say the cost of running a car will keep them off the road, while four per cent claim fear of death or injury would be enough to force their hand.

As far as other people’s opinion of older people driving, 70 per cent say they have never experienced ageism (or they just don’t care).

When we asked our members for comment about the safety of our roads, many say that the younger generation was a cause for concern.

“I am 70 years of age. I follow all the road rules and have my wits about me at all times. I got my licence at 18 years of age and was tested by a police officer. How about providing information on the younger generation as to how many are killed on the roads each year, and the cause of the accident. It would be very interesting I am sure,” wrote Toots.

Member Triss had the answers: “255 deaths age 26-39. 388 deaths age 40-64. Add to the above 228 deaths between age 17-25,” she wrote.

Another member says that proof of reckless driving is right in front of our eyes.

“Who is it you see weaving in and out of traffic dangerously, pulling out in front from intersections when there is a free road behind the car you pulled in front of – not the elderly but the under 50s – happens time and time again. You statisticians – how many drink drivers are there in the over 65 range? Yes, accidents are caused for many different reasons and it is unfair to lump them all with the over 65s,” wrote Troubadour.

We think Johnno nails the issue with this comment: “It’s not so much about age but rather how confident and competent we are behind the wheel.”

Will you drive until you die? Do you think younger drivers are more of a problem than older drivers? Who are the worst drivers on the road?

Related articles:
Are aged-based driving tests fair?
Your hearing and driving
When should you stop driving?

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Publisher of YourLifeChoices – Australia's most-trusted and longest-running retirement website. A trusted voice on Australia's retirement landscape, including retirement income and planning, government entitlements, lifestyle and news and information relevant to Australians over 50. Leon has worked in publishing for more than 25 years and is also a travel writer and editor, graphic designer and photographer.

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