- A call for compulsory driving tests for over-70s
- Older drivers involved in fewer accidents
- Higher risk of injury for mature motorists
Currently, drivers over 70 must complete a self-assessment form every three years to renew their licence.
However, there are those calling for compulsory retesting: an online petition, calling for retesting every three years for drivers who have turned 70, has gained over a quarter of a million signatures.
Is this the best way to improve safety for all road users as well as mature drivers? Sue Baker (@carscribe) talks to the experts.
Challenging and changing road conditions
In just over a decade, from 2002 to 2013, the number of drivers aged over 70 years old increased by 38%. There are now more than 4.5 million people aged 70 and over who hold a UK driving licence, representing almost 12% of full licence holders.
These mature drivers are having to cope with ever busier roads. Licensed vehicles are up from 4.2 million in 1951 to 35.6 million in 2014.
‘In general, modern roads are safer and easier to use, but busy roads do require better lane discipline and knowledge when approaching junctions,’ says Dr Christopher (Kit) Mitchell, formerly of the Transport Research Laboratory and consultant to the Road Safety Foundation (@SafeRoadDesign).
More mature drivers, fewer accidents
Despite the number of drivers aged 70 and over increasing, they are proportionally less likely to be involved in reported road accidents than other age groups.
Mandatory retesting for mature drivers
‘It could put off many perfectly safe drivers, leading to a loss of independence and isolation,’ Paddy observes. ‘There is no one age at which drivers suddenly become a danger.’
Instead, Paddy recommends encouraging voluntary reassessment, and improving the advice available on staying safe and mobile for as long as possible.
‘Last July the Older Drivers Task Force recommended increasing the age of licence renewal to 75 and asking for a sight test,’ says Paddy.
Be honest with yourself
However, although older drivers are statistically safer drivers, the abilities of drivers may diminish with age.
‘Vision, reaction times and skills in executing manoeuvres decline with age,’ observes the report.
In response to this, the Older Drivers Task Force suggests that the DVLA should ask older drivers for proof of a recent eyesight test when they get their licence renewed.
‘There is evidence that when the police offer driving assessments as an alternative to prosecution nearly 70% of those assessed require eyesight correction,’ says the Older Drivers Task Force report.
Chair of the Older Drivers Forum Sgt Rob Heard supports the Older Drivers Task Force and suggests that mature drivers should consider taking regular eye tests.
‘Regular eye tests are a great way to spot medical conditions early,’ says Rob. ‘We at the Older Drivers Forum recommend that people should have an eyesight test and a field of vision check every two years.’
A higher risk of injury
The Older Drivers Taskforce’s strategy says that, if involved in a crash, older drivers are up to four times more likely to be seriously injured than younger drivers ‘simply because of their frailty’.
‘Car makers have a role to play here in designing more forgiving car interiors. Crash test dummies are now available that can replicate the forces an older driver or passenger can withstand,’ observes Paddy.
What can mature drivers do themselves?
‘Use their common sense, keep up their driving hours, or apply for the IAM RoadSmart Mature Driver Review.’ suggests Paddy. ‘As IAM RoadSmart is a charity, your £49 payment only covers the examiner’s travel expenses.
‘Experience counts for a large part of what makes older drivers safer, but anyone can get into bad habits or lose confidence,’ adds Paddy.
Graham Mylward, Senior Road Safety Officer with Hampshire County Council’s Road Safety Team (@HantsRoadSafety), takes the lead on the Driver Skills Scheme 60+. He has seen many drivers pick up bad habits in later years.
‘Over the last 10 years we have assessed more than 6,000 older drivers under our Business Driver scheme,’ explains Graham. ‘We’ve found that older drivers are poorer at checking door mirrors and doing blind spot checks.’
‘If the decline is more severe, an assessment by a Mobility Centre may provide more detailed advice on staying safe,’ says Kit.
‘These steps may include changing your car, adding extra mirrors, choosing where you drive to avoid difficult situations and getting refresher training,’ Kit continues.
It’s also advisable to make sure that you have the correct level of car insurance, just in case you are involved in an accident.
Taking an advanced driving test
There are tests that don’t involve the DVLA and therefore won’t risk you losing your licence.
- The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents test costs £62.
- The Driving Instructors Association's DIAmond advanced test costs £78
- The IAM RoadSmart advanced test, packaged together with advanced driving tuition, costs £149.
IAM Roadsmart advanced test applicants are allocated to an ‘observer’.
‘Over the course of several sessions they will decide how prepared you are. It might take a few weeks, but our pass rate is very high because, unlike the standard driving test, we don’t allow candidates to go forward until we believe they have the ability to pass,’ he explains.
‘Never be complacent about your driving, however many years or experience you may have,’ says Rob. ‘Everyone picks up on bad habits, and getting help identifying them is a helps us stay safe on the road.’
Although manufacturers are working towards ever safer cars, mature drivers need to take responsibility when it comes to safe driving.