Are age-based driving tests fair?

With WA recently abolishing its requirement for driving tests for drivers over 85, NSW is now the only state which still enforces this test. And as a recent ABC Background Briefing investigation revealed, a number of experts including a current director of the NRMA, say there is no evidence that compulsory testing for the elderly reduces accidents.

On ending the need for the test, WA Premier Colin Barnett said, “I think having a medical check-up and if the doctor says you’re still fit and able to drive, you’re physically capable, that’s fine. Keep on driving, be careful.”

Most states, including WA and NSW require older drivers to undergo a medical test, whereby a doctor deems whether a driver is fit to drive or not, however, in Victoria there is no such requirement. Currently, Victoria has a lower crash rate involving older drivers than NSW.

Arthur Napier is 93 and has to undergo the test every two years; despite spending half the year driving the country in his campervan and only having had one accident in his entire time driving. Of the testing Arthur said, “They don’t chat, they don’t talk. I thought after they could tell you how you performed, and what you need to check up on. But they don’t.”

Age-based testing is shunned both nationally and internationally and despite pre-election promises by NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell to scrap the test, it still remains and indeed, the need for the test has been reinforced by a NSW Government Task Force. Following a review in September, a statement detailing a recommendation that older driver testing requirements remain was quietly released, but no data has been issued to support this.

Marg Prendergast of the NSW Government’s Centre for road safety sat on the task force and believes that other sates will soon follow NSW’s lead, “In the last ten years, there has been a 14 per cent reduction in casualty crashes for all drivers. Casualties are a fatality or an injury,” said Ms Prendergast. “There’s been a 50 per cent increase for drivers aged 75-plus. And there’s been a 111 per cent increase for drivers aged 85-plus. That is the basis for our decision.” However, as a former chair of the NRMA’s policy committee, Graham Blight campaigned unsuccessfully to have the tests scrapped. “I think there’s a resistance to drop the driving test because they think it’s a test that’s creating more safety on the road and more safety for older drivers. And yet they do not have one ounce of statistical evidence to say that’s so,” said Mr Blight.


Listen to Ann Arnold discuss the issue on ABC Radio National – Background Briefing

Opinion: Hands up perfect drivers?

Every time you get behind the wheel of a car, you’re taking a risk. It doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, driving is risky and it’s not just your own actions of which you have to be mindful.

There have been many occasions when, on my daily drive to work, I have felt like parking my car at the side of the road and jumping on public transport. Drivers cutting in front of you, being reticent to turn at a junction, putting on make up while they drive, trying to light a cigarette while holding the wheel, and despite it being illegal, using a mobile phone, are all irresponsible acts which put the lives of others at risk and ones which I see every day.  These risky practices go on despite the age of the driver. Young drivers are just as likely to be unsure of roads rules, as older drivers are to squeeze into a traffic queue. Drivers are drivers, yet older drivers get labelled as being unsafe.

When an older driver causes what is classed as a one-driver accident, i.e. where they accidently mount a kerb, or hit a parked car, it will more than likely make the news just because of the age of the driver. Yet if a harassed mother, or worker in a rush does the same thing, then little is heard about the incident.

A study of older drivers by COTA Victoria found that they are more likely than other drivers to be required to undergo a licence review after being in an accident. And drivers over 75 are only issued with a licence for three years, rather than 10 years as with other drivers. Surely this is discrimination?

I actually think that the problem with most drivers, regardless of age, is complacency. You sit your test, often at 17 or 18 and, if you manage to stick loosely to the road rules, you can drive for the next 50-odd years without anyone questioning your ability.  Road rules change, driving conditions change and roads become busier, but no one ever questions if drivers in their 30s, 40s and 50s are still capable of getting behind the wheel and driving safely.

When moving from overseas, most people are simply granted a licence to drive in Australia, despite the road rules being completely different from those from where they came. Perhaps it’s time for a quick medical review and paper test every 10 years when licences are reviewed, no matter what age you are. I, for one, am not confident I would pass, but it would serve as a timely reminder to all that unsafe, or simply even complacency can kill.

Do you think older drivers should undergo mandatory testing? If so, at what age should it be implemented?

Written by Debbie McTaggart