Should mature motorists have to take extra driving tests?

And would more tests really make our roads safer?

5 minutes

Research from the DVLA shows more than 100,000 people aged over 90 now hold a UK driving license.

But, with the laws on the road constantly changing, should people over 70 have to retake their test?  

  • Drivers over 70 must complete a self-assessment
  • Older drivers involved in fewer accidents
  • Higher risk of injury for mature motorists

Keep up your driving hours to ensure your skills don't diminish as you age

Currently, drivers over 70 must complete a self-assessment form every three years to renew their licence. But is this the best way to improve safety for all road users as well as mature drivers? Writing for LV= car insurance, motoring journalist Sue Baker investigates.

Challenging and changing road conditions

There are currently more than 5 million people aged 70 and above who hold a UK driving licence, representing over 12 per cent 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 37.9 million in 2018.

‘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 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

Paddy Hopkirk (@PaddyHopkirk), former rally driver and IAM RoadSmart (@IAMRoadSmart) mature driver ambassador, believes that mandatory testing would be unfair to drivers aged 70 and over.

‘It could put off many perfectly safe drivers, leading to a loss of independence and isolation,’ Paddy observes. ‘There's 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.

‘The Older Drivers Task Force recommends increasing the age of licence renewal to 75 and asking for a sight test,’ says Paddy.

And it’s not just mature drivers that should make sure their vision’s up to scratch: in July, the DVLA launched a national eyesight awareness campaign to encourage drivers to check if they can read a number plate from 20 metres.

Be honest with yourself

However, although older drivers are statistically safer drivers, their abilities may diminish with age. 

‘Vision, reaction times and skills in executing manoeuvres decline with age,’ the report says. 

In response to this, the Older Drivers Task Force suggests the DVLA asks 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 per cent of those assessed require eyesight correction,’ says their report.

‘Regular eye tests are a great way to spot medical conditions early,’ says Chair of the Older Drivers Forum Sgt Rob Heard. ‘We recommend people should have an eyesight test and a field of vision check every two years.’

A higher risk of injury

The Older Drivers Task Force’s strategy says, 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,’ says 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,’ says 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 ten years we have assessed more than 6,000 older drivers under our Business Driver scheme,’ says 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 Christopher Mitchell. 

‘These steps may include changing your car, adding extra mirrors, choosing where you drive to avoid difficult situations and getting refresher training.' 

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 and the Driving Instructors Association's DIAmond advanced tests cost less than £100, while the IAM RoadSmart advanced test, packaged together with advanced driving tuition, costs £150.

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 helps us stay safe on the road.’

Although manufacturers are working towards ever safer cars, mature drivers need to make sure that they take responsibility when it comes to safe driving.