Are they going to take away your right to drive?

It seems that there are more and more challenges to keeping your licence as you get older.

Right to drive at risk?

It seems that there are more and more challenges to keeping your licence as you get older. Driving is and has been a major part of our lives, and losing the freedom to go where you want, when you want, can have a devastating effect on lifestyle.

However, it is undeniable that our driving skills are affected by the ageing process.

Senior drivers are increasingly coming under the microscope, with many pundits urging that older drivers’ freedom to drive be curtailed or removed altogether. So, what can you do to improve your odds of not having your licence compulsorily cancelled?

“That doesn’t apply to me!”

Admitting that there’s a problem is the first hurdle. In a recent survey in the UK, two thirds of the 1000 people questioned rated themselves as “among the best” or “better than most” drivers, while only a quarter see themselves as “average” (a paltry seven per cent admitted there was “room for improvement” in their driving). Anyone can see that’s a statistical absurdity. Quite simply, seventy per cent of us can’t be “better-than-average” drivers.

Even worse, the older we get, the more generous we are in assessing our own competence. And most of us don’t want to talk or think about when we are no longer able to drive.

Not only do our cognitive skills and reaction times decrease with age, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with the ever-changing road rules (and the increasing number of them). How well do you understand roundabout rules? Merging rules? Making turns at intersections? Sure, lack of road rule knowledge isn’t limited to the over-50s, but it can be and is a major problem.

Generally speaking, older drivers are safe and cautious on the roads (some would say, “too cautious”). Most responsible over-50s make appropriate adjustments to their driving and travel behaviour, but there is evidence that some older drivers simply don’t adopt self-regulatory driving behaviours. This puts them at higher risk of involvement in a crash.

All of us will benefit from targeted driver awareness, education and training programs. Monash University in Melbourne, in conjunction with the NRMA ACT Road Safety Trust, has developed a new education and training program aimed at senior drivers: Seniors Driving Longer, Smarter, Safer.

The program aims to provide groups of senior drivers with knowledge about crash and injury risk, raise their awareness of the effects of ageing on driving performance and crash risk, and provide tips and strategies on maintaining safe driving practices for as long as possible. The program also outlines strategies for the successful reduction and cessation of driving and alternative transport options once driving becomes impractical.

Are senior drivers really at more risk on the road?
We’ve all seen the headlines: ‘Elderly driver mistakes brake pedal for accelerator’ or, as appeared in a Sydney newspaper not so long ago: ‘Too many elderly drivers are on the road with a licence to kill’.

Such crashes and near-misses increasingly bring about calls for the introduction of medical and driving tests for senior drivers. There have even been calls for senior drivers to display an ‘S’ plate, similar to the ‘P’ plate that new drivers must display, to advise other motorists that they are in the vicinity of a senior driver.

Studies clearly show that the risk of being involved in a fatal crash increases as we age. But like all statistics, this is not as simple as it first appears.

Many fatality figures for senior road users include pedestrians and passengers, seriously distorting the true picture. However, there is no doubt that seniors are more frail than younger people and, as a result, more likely to be seriously injured or killed in a crash that may not have the same devastating impact on a younger person. More worryingly, older people take longer to heal, so can be incapacitated for far longer. In some cases, health issues will be the direct cause of the crash (increasingly referred to in the media as ‘a medical episode’).

Sadly, very few people bother to refresh their knowledge or skill throughout their driving careers.

Then there is the issue of health. Eyesight is obviously crucial in safe driving. Many senior drivers involved in a crash will claim that they didn’t see the other vehicle or object prior to colliding with it. Regular eye tests, every two years, should be an obvious requirement, not just for senior drivers but all drivers. Other medical conditions that affect the ability to drive safely include chronic pain, failing hearing, diabetic neuropathy and osteoarthritis. And then there’s the impact of the drugs senior drivers need to treat their conditions – painkillers, antidepressants and sleeping pills, for example. A recent study reveals that almost 30 per cent of seniors were taking at least five prescription medications.

The simple fact is that senior drivers, despite being at more risk as they pass the age of 70, crash less often per kilometre than teens. And they often don’t get credit for their safe driving habits.

Emmy Betz, associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, researches senior driver safety and says, “Older drivers are more likely to use seat belts and follow speed limits. They are less likely to drive at night or while intoxicated, or to text while they drive.”

Two policies in the US have been shown to reduce senior driver fatality rates: in-person licence renewals and additional vision tests. They work because they create an opportunity to identify drivers with functional shortcomings and refer them for further screening. Alternatively, some senior drivers who fear they may fail the screening, simply don’t bother to renew their licence and discontinue driving.

Taking a closer look at the data, drivers between 50 and 69 are statistically the least likely to be involved in a crash (282 per 100 million miles driven for the 50-59 age group [all figures US data] and 256 per 100 million miles driven for the 60-69 age group, compared to 2152 for the vulnerable 16-17 age group, 1136 for the 18-19-year-olds – it falls steadily after that, but rises again to 358 for the 70-74 age group, 369 for the 75-79-year-olds, 529 for those between 80 and 84 and peaks at 745 for the 85+ group).

Someone should be pointing that out to our authorities and the insurance companies, and, will be doing precisely that.

What you can do for yourself
It is possible for you to keep yourself on the road for longer.

Cardiovascular exercise can slow cognitive decline. Strength and flexibility programs can improve your ability to rotate your neck and improve your response speed. If things are dire, senior drivers may benefit from working with a driver rehabilitation specialist, trained to assess abilities and recommend retraining, adaptive devices and even sensible driving restrictions. A driver rehabilitation specialist may be especially useful after a major health event such as a knee or hip replacement, open heart surgery, chemotherapy or a stroke.

What are the signs that ‘it’s time’?

  • other drivers regularly hoot at you, abuse you or make abusive gestures
  • you’ve had some accidents, even if they were only minor scrapes
  • you get lost even on roads you think you know
  • cars or pedestrians seem to appear ‘from nowhere’
  • you get distracted while driving
  • your doctor, family or friends have confided that they are worried about your driving
  • you drive less because you don’t feel confident
  • you have trouble staying in your lane or maintaining a consistent speed
  • you have trouble moving your foot between the accelerator and brake pedal and even, perhaps, confuse the two.
  • you’ve been pulled over by the police about the quality of your driving.

Senior driver training programs

You may never have considered taking a refresher course to brush up on skills you may have learnt decades ago, or to learn how road conditions and rules have changed since you gained your licence.

Such courses will be time and money well spent, and may contribute to you keeping your licence and right to drive for much longer than might otherwise be the case.

Motoring clubs in each state offer courses for senior drivers. Many will offer a self-assessment questionnaire, and completing one may surprise you at just how out-of-date your knowledge has become. There are also a number of independent driver training courses available and will detail and assess these in a separate feature.

New South Wales: From the age of 75, NSW drivers need to complete a medical review every year, regardless of licence class. When you reach 85, you need to pass a practical driving assessment every second year to retain an unrestricted licence. You can get a modified licence without the practical driving test but you will be restricted to certain conditions and areas.

The NRMA conducts senior driving training to provide you with both the skills and confidence to stay on the road. The 60-minute refresher course assesses your knowledge, confidence and skills and costs between $65 and $85. The formal 60-minute driver assessment costs from $65 to $120. The 90-minute refresher and assessment course identifies areas that may require further improvement and costs from $97.50 to $138.

Call 1300 696 762. Prices vary by location.

Victoria: You can continue driving provided it is considered safe for you to do so. Should you develop any long-term or permanent physical or mental conditions that could conceivably affect your ability to operate a vehicle, you are legally obliged to notify VicRoads.

As well as making presentations to community groups, the RACV conducts a senior driving program and also offers advice on the best choice of car for senior drivers. It covers local driving, complex driving situations, how to develop specific skills and provides verbal and written feedback to and record progress.

Further details are available on 1300 788 229.

Queensland: Drivers over the age of 75 in Queensland are required to obtain a valid Medical Certificate for Motor Vehicle Driver and carry it with them at all times while driving. The certificate is valid for 12 months, so needs to be renewed every year.

The RACQ makes free presentations to community groups, and its Years Ahead program is one of the more popular. It is a 45-minute presentation that covers such topics as recent changes to Queensland road rules (including the ever-vexing roundabout rules and merging), medical considerations when driving and alternative transport options (including motorised wheelchairs).

Make enquiries by calling 1300 853.

South Australia: Senior drivers in SA, who don’t have a medical condition, are sent an annual self-assessment form once they pass the age of 75. The self-assessment can only be completed by visiting a doctor, and failure to do so will invalidate your licence.

The RAA conducts refresher lessons for seniors with 60 or 90-minute lessons. Prices are $85 for 60 minutes ($95 for non-members) and $115 for 90 minutes ($125 for non-members).

Western Australia: In WA, drivers who reach the age of 80 are required to undergo an annual medical assessment and complete the senior driver’s licence renewal declaration before they are allowed to renew their licence.

Unfortunately, at the time of posting, the RAC in WA hadn’t seen fit to respond to our questions.

Tasmania: Drivers over 75 in Tasmania are not required to undertake an annual medical assessment but are strongly encouraged to self-assess their driving ability. They are also required to disclose any medical conditions.

Like Victoria, the RACT conducts The Years Ahead education program. They also offer a brochure on Fitness to Drive and another on Five Tips for Driving Wellness. Unlike other States, the RACT doesn’t offer a “one-size-fits-all” course for senior drivers but offers a $95 Licenced Driver Assessment which is a one-on-one session followed by a tailored program to suit specific requirements.

Northern Territory: There are no age-based restrictions in the NT but drivers are legally required to disclose any medical conditions affecting their ability to drive.

Australian Capital Territory: Drivers over 75 in the ACT must provide an annual medical certificate that confirms they are medically fit to continue driving.

Are you ever worried about losing your right to drive?

This article first appeared on

Paul Murrell is a motoring writer and creator of, which specialises in “car advice for people whose age and IQ are both over 50”.

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    Karl Marx
    3rd Sep 2019
    Less likely to speed, less likely to drink & drive, less likely to be driving without a license, less likely to use drugs & drive & very unlikely to text or use mobile devices. Age makes us better drivers as the report points out & less likely to be involved in an accident.
    Agree the older you get the more serious the injuries can be & a longer time to heal.
    Maybe it's best to have a medical to renew ones license.
    I new a bloke who was still riding big motorbikes & pulling a trailer at 92. Not issues at all.
    Everyone is different. I know people who are late 40's but are really medically unfit & shouldn't be on the road.
    3rd Sep 2019
    Then there are the mentally unfit.... fatal up from here - Chinese hit two motor bikes, bolted to Brisbane Airport and tried to board a 2 am flight and was caught.

    Usual Suspect... I used to work security at the Sydney airport and one of the guys once said it was impossible for the Chinese to ever invade us, since they couldn't even drive a car or form an orderly queue.
    3rd Sep 2019
    There is plenty of evidence to suggest that our driving ability decreases as we age, that doesn’t mean we are more dangerous on the road, younger divers tend to be less patient than older drivers, these are generalisations only, some older drivers were probably bad drivers when they were young, and some younger drivers are terrible drivers from day one, the problems stem from bad driving practises, eg the lack of use of indicators when did this become voluntary, I must have missed that email, of course many drivers will tell you they are totally unaffected by being on their mobile phones whilst driving or doing their hair and make up whilst juggling with a coffee, naturally they have so much more experience and ability than older drivers. Maybe older driver incidences are highlighted more than other drivers, I am sure I have seen stats that suggest under 25 have more incidences than any other age group.
    3rd Sep 2019
    I dunno, Jim - I cruise control at the set speed limit as a rule, and countless older drivers roar up behind me and you can hear them cursing about 'that slow old bastard' in front of them - funny thing is I always get there in front of them or just behind them..

    It's called skill, experience and judgement... many older drivers have none of those.
    3rd Sep 2019
    That’s my point Trebor many bad older drivers were quite probably bad younger drivers, I have driven trucks and busses the bus driving was as a volunteer after I retired, I have seen all sorts of bad driving practises from both young and old drivers, I don’t think it’s necessarily an age thing, although I do suspect that as we age our reflexes slow down and many of us have been able to adapt to our different circumstances, others may not have adapted so well, but it’s been my experience that if the driver in the car next to me is on their mobile then I need to take extra care to avoid them becoming distracted and driving into me, and usually that person is in the bracket that doesn’t have grey hair, but I agree age doesn’t necessarily determine a person’s ability to drive.
    3rd Sep 2019
    I kept telling them that I could still tell the difference between a bicycle & a B double at 300 metres, so my eyesight was perfectly adequate to know which one I should avoid.
    3rd Sep 2019
    Karl Marx, couldn't agree more. The insidious campaign against older drivers is driven by citiycentric younger people in positions of authority who make judgements that they don't have the responsibility, experience or maturity to make. I have learned reality the hard way and through the experience of my friends of similar age. Don't trust the Service NSW licence examiners - they will fail you because it is NSW government policy to discriminate against older drivers. Some time ago I tried to sort out the statistics for older drivers but with pedestrian and passenger deaths included in the so called road toll, I couldn't make sense of the numbers. My local State polly was no help either. Are you aware that NSW is the only Sate that requires retesting of older drivers over 80? The other States have either trialled it and discarded the idea or not introduced it at all. Talk about age discrimination in the extreme!

    3rd Sep 2019
    Living in one of God's Waiting Rooms as I do, I've seen it all - driving on the wrong side of the road, no judgement in pulling out in front of traffic, not even noticing cars in the other lane when changing lanes (yesterday - old lady chatting with her passenger nearly hit me),roundabout fails, inability to keep a consistent speed (followed an old guy - I'm a chicken at 70 - the other day and he could not keep at 60 kph - up and down between 35 and 58), the astounding ability to do 70 kph in the 50 zones and 70 kph in the 110 zones, inability to read road signs, the demand imposed by ego to get in front of another car doing the speed limit at any cost and then slow down to under that limit or struggle through corners etc, slowing the other car down..........

    the best ones are the obvious ones - they spent their life in a city, caught the bus or train to work every day, and scarcely drove the car; now they run a Land Abuser Toorak Tractor to 'see Australia' and can't drive for peanuts - one guy here hit the old guy's dream and bought the twin turbo Mustang... so terrified to hurt it he simply can't handle anything on the road.. roundabouts are sheer murder for him, and it is a serious Hangar Queen.

    3rd Sep 2019
    The quality of driving nowadays is terrible. The worst drivers by far are immigrants (particularly the Chinese) and among these, women are worse than the men. In general, the elderly Australian drivers are OK.
    3rd Sep 2019
    I agree that the Asian and sub continental drivers seem to mostly be well below par with their driving skills. That is a generalisation of course!
    Horace Cope
    3rd Sep 2019
    I am not the driver I was in my twenties or thirties and as I am aware of that, I now drive with more caution. That doesn't mean that I poke along well under the posted speed limit, it means that I leave more room to allow for my slowed reflexes and I try to anticipate what is likely to happen around me. I choose an automatic because my left foot can more readily access the brake pedal. My licence is more important now that we are retired so we can go where we want, when we want and that means sticking to speed limits, being aware of school zones and certainly no drink or drug driving.
    3rd Sep 2019
    I would suggest that compulsory medical examinations for over 65's be taken annually to determine a persons actual physical ability to drive. This should include eyesight, reflexes and reaction timing tests as well as the ability to turn one's head for head and mirror checks. Far too often I see elderly drivings with a fixated head and eyes. By the way, I am going on 69 and would be prepared to also do a further on road driver competency test as well.
    4th Sep 2019
    So, are you getting your voluntary annual medical checks?
    3rd Sep 2019
    Another example of the "POLICE STATE" creeping up on us
    The following exerp from this artical says it all!!!
    Someone should be pointing that out to our authorities and the insurance companies, and, will be doing precisely that.>

    There is an increasing percentage of over 65s now still in the workforce or indeed re-entering it and continuing on to their mid 70s.
    I am now 81 and object to having to have a bloody GP quack poke around me with a stethoscope thing and taking my blood pressure; In order to decide when I can keep my license!!!!
    But in these times we are increasingly controlled and policed by a bunch of young DHs fresh out of uni with their degrees in basket weaving paid for by my taxes!!!!!!!
    3rd Sep 2019
    With that attitude you are the perfect example of a stubborn, grumpy old prick of a man who should NOT be driving.
    3rd Sep 2019
    I don't think you're a grumpy old prick at all, Nimbus (sorry, clancambo). But it's not so much a "police state" as age discrimination. In fact, the article suggests that the statistics say older drivers are actually safer. And the message needs to get out, so the authorities and insurance companies (and various others) stop targeting older drivers. As for having a doctor make a call whether you're fit to drive, consider the implications: doctors will err on the side of caution, rather than face potential legal action down the line. So, their default position will be: "not fit to drive". And older people will avoid visiting their GP because they may lose their right to drive. Unacceptable. Ureasonable.
    3rd Sep 2019
    How about allowing caged dogs on public transport in special carriages so elderly people and others don't need to drive a car to get from A to B.
    3rd Sep 2019
    I have been riding a motorbike around Nha Trang (Vietnam) for ten far OK (touch wood). The motorcyclists are "reasonable" but the majority are addicted to mobile phones so one has to be on guard as a lot of these people also have young children (and babies) with them. Car drivers are extremely aware and cautious BUT truck and bus drivers are brutal. Hhaving turned 74 I do not ride at night....extremely hazardous.
    3rd Sep 2019
    There are two areas in Sydney that I am aware that I have to be absolutely on my game when driving. They are the Haymarket around Paddy's Market and the suburbs of Eastwood and Epping. No prizes for working out why.
    3rd Sep 2019
    Out here we have 0ne bus a day, five days a week , to our nearest town with a hospital worth calling a hospital (Launceston), not that it's very good; community transport is $55.00 return, which our government reckons is okay. So I'm not looking forward to losing my driving license in a few more years.
    3rd Sep 2019
    Out here we have 0ne bus a day, five days a week , to our nearest town with a hospital worth calling a hospital (Launceston), not that it's very good; community transport is $55.00 return, which our government reckons is okay. So I'm not looking forward to losing my driving license in a few more years.
    3rd Sep 2019
    Hi morrowj1122 lived there a few years myself but for a real thrill visit Cambodia they scare the living dayligths out of you & when they immigrate Im sure they take their bad habits with them!!
    3rd Sep 2019
    The drivers that scare me the most...are parents with young kids in the car. I followed a car recently where I swear the mother's head wasn't facing forward more than 50% of the time. Turning to talk and interact with kids in the back seat, and playing with the headrest screens. The worst though was watching a woman driving at the same time that she was holding a bottle, and feeding her baby in the rear baby capsule. One hand on the steering wheel, one hand holding the bottle, plus turning her head to watch the baby.
    Older driver's may be a bit slower and more cautious, but they are not the problem. It is the impatient people behind/beside them who think they own the road.
    3rd Sep 2019
    I don't think you're a grumpy old prick at all, Nimbus (sorry, clancambo). But it's not so much a "police state" as age discrimination. In fact, the article suggests that the statistics say older drivers are actually safer. And the message needs to get out, so the authorities and insurance companies (and various others) stop targeting older drivers. As for having a doctor make a call whether you're fit to drive, consider the implications: doctors will err on the side of caution, rather than face potential legal action down the line. So, their default position will be: "not fit to drive". And older people will avoid visiting their GP because they may lose their right to drive. Unacceptable. Ureasonable.
    3rd Sep 2019
    Hey clancambo Take your compulsory medical examination and shove it up your arse.
    7th Sep 2019
    Typically the sort of person who should NOT be on the road.
    3rd Sep 2019
    This has been coming for a long time. Given some of the horrendous and unbelievable accidents from our community you have to acknowledge the problem.
    I'll probably move to Tassie to avoid the BS. Not as though I am not a good driver and can self assess when its time to hand in the Cornflakes license.
    4th Sep 2019
    In regards to the cost - who can afford it? Certainly not those of us on Pensions or Newstart! We've little enough to live on let alone afford to pay those prices just to keep our licences.
    5th Sep 2019
    In WA we get the Asian tourist who still believes they can see WA in a Day???. Have a map on Singapore, check the distance of what they have to travel on the Singaporean map and only takes 1 hour to drive 25mm from the map. Arrive in WA get hold of a map and work out it will only take 2 hours to drive the 50mm on the WA map.
    After 3-4 days Perth to Margaret River across to Manjimup, then to Albany and finally decide to drive drive through the middle of the southwest back to Perth then jump on the plane up,up and away if they are lucky.
    The problem being a big Jarrah tree is in the middle of the road and their car hits the tree. 2 or 4 killed, they went off the road asleep at the wheel.
    I know as I had to go to the site, examine the accident scene, look at how can this situation be prevented with the "tree jumping out onto the road and get hit" by the car. I worked for the Local Authority.
    I was required to make suggestions to try to prevent this happening.
    The only suggestion I could come up with was "Check the scale of the map" to see how far the distance was on the road and map before taking off on the big trip around the South West of WA.
    The trip in Singapore of 1 hrs showing 25mm on the map may only be 30-40kms, however the round trip as mentioned of the SW of WA is approx 1600kms and 3 days of solid driving.
    Enough said about Asian drivers. If they are not driving around SW of WA they drive around Perth and you wonder if they have a Drivers Licence. Having been in Vietnam is an example of some of their drivers and in saying that, you walk slowly across the road, do not run, do not stop, keep the same pace and the motobike riders go around you. Don't do any of the above and you come home in a run across the road, stop on the road, or slow or build up pace your are gone for all money.
    And they talk about oldies driving. Yes I start driving in 1963, so far no accidents, not stopped by Police and no parking or speeding tickets from the road cameras, 0 from the booze bus, 0 from the drug bus. Am I lucky or concentrate on what I am doing and drive to the actions of cars 2 in front of me so I know what the car in front of me will do before they do. Luck?????
    Karl Marx
    6th Sep 2019
    Most Asians can't fathom measurements, just look at clothing sizes in Asia, 32 cm in Australia or anywhere else in the western world but in Asian countries including China it will be sized at 34-36cm so if they can't read a tape measure there're buggered trying to read the scales of a map. Easy to check distance on google maps or other apps on mobiles. How Asians get degrees is beyond me as most I've had contact through in my working career are not to intelligent & the average Aussie would run rings around them.
    7th Sep 2019
    Driving is not a "right". It's a privilege. People both young and old abuse this privilege. Some older people may have been expert drivers all their lives, but age lets old bodies down. Annual medical tests should be compulsory for the elderly.

    Allowing some foreigners to drive without first testing their ability on Australian roads is also high risk.
    Karl Marx
    7th Sep 2019
    Medical testing for all license renewal, it's not just an age thing you know. Same as Alcohol the limit should be 0.00. If you drive don't drink not even 1 glass.
    But as the survey pointed out aged drives are less likely to have an accident.
    18th Aug 2020
    Worst problem I've seen on our roads is drivers who text on mobiles while driving, and those who are impatient.
    The impatient ones race along the roads, way over the speed limits. They get around in what I call "wolf packs" inciting others to have a race with them. I sit behind them, on the speed limit and just watch them. There they go racing ahead of everyone, then the light goes red, they stop, while revving up their cars waiting for the green light, and another race, to prove what?
    I breeze along doing the legal speed limit and go past them just as the light turns green.
    Guess who's cheesed off and what's the point of their antics?

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