Whenever there is a high-profile road traffic accident involving an older person, a familiar public debate is often reignited about whether people over a certain age should be banned from driving. However, plenty of evidence suggests that older drivers are far less of a danger on the road than younger people who are new to driving.
The number of people over 90 with a current driving licence is on the increase, with recent numbers topping 100,000. And in November 2018, the number of over-70s who hold a licence was in excess of five million for the first time, according to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). This increase can be put down to an aging population and people staying healthier and independent longer. It also points to the fact that in many parts of the country we are dependent on our cars to reach most local amenities, meaning life without car travel would prove far more complicated and restrictive. It is perhaps no surprise then that older drivers are more reluctant to give up their licences.
But what are the facts? Should you still be driving in your later years?
Are older drivers a risk on the roads?
Research looking at drivers in the over-70 age bracket shows that actually on average older drivers are much less likely to have an accident than young people, particularly men, who have just passed their test.
According to the DVLA there were 5.3 million over-70s with full driving licences in Britain in November 2018, and of these 5.3 million, 11,245 were involved in car accidents, making it a rate of two per 1,000 licence holders.
However, the rate of road traffic accidents for the 17 to 24 age bracket was more than four times as high, where there were 2.8 million British drivers and the rate of accidents was nine per 1,000 licence holders.
The findings are unclear whether there are other factors to take into account, such as whether this reflects that the older age group were on the road less, or making shorter journeys. However, information from the National Travel Survey conducted separately reveals that on average, under-20s drive over 1000 miles less a year than people aged over 70.
Indeed, the president of the AA, Edmund King, said of the statistics: “Older drivers often self-restrict their driving by not driving at night and only driving on familiar roads.”
This recent DVLA study is not the first of its kind to show these results. A University of Wales, Swansea, study carried out in 2016 found that men aged between 17 and 21 were three to four times more likely to have an accident that drivers aged over 70.
The general perception of increased car insurance costs for older drivers is often cited as proof that older drivers are less safe. However, even this is not necessarily factually correct. Malcolm Tarling, from the Association of British Insurers, says insurers consider a range of factors when putting a price on car insurance and age is only one factor. Careful older drivers with long records of no claims will see this reflected in the cost of their car insurance. Simply being older is not always a negative, as there is a benefit to having years of experience on the roads.
When is an older driver too old?
According to the DVLA’s November figures there were 110,790 people aged 90 or over who still held driving licences, and there were 314 licence holders aged at least 100. The oldest were four drivers aged 107.
Health permitting, the decision to keep driving lies solely with the licence holder. The decision of whether to stop driving is a very personal one, and can be difficult to think about. And as each person ages differently there is no ‘cut-off’ point which would suit everyone. For some, slowing response times might make them feel they would be safer to stop driving, for others, eyesight issues or aching joints might play a factor.
Legally, in the UK your driving licence automatically expires when you reach 70, and it must be renewed at that point, and every three years after that, by completing a self-assessment confirming you are fit to contuinue driving, but there is no actual test which needs to be passed. As with all driving licence holders you of course need to tell the DVLA if you develop any medical conditions that could affect your ability to drive safely. You must also be able to read a number plate from 20m (65ft) away.
If you are contemplating whether you should still be driving at an older age, this check list may help prompt you to consider how safe still you are. These are common issues and signs that driving is becoming more difficult as reported by older drivers, from The Older Drivers Forum, a charity aiming to keep older people driving safely for longer. This includes: slower reaction times, difficulty in turning to see when reversing, keeping a foot on the brake, other drivers sounding their horns at them, incorrect signals, hitting the kerb, trouble making turns, confusion at exits, over-revving the engine, especially on low-speed manoeuvres, difficulties with low-light or night-time driving, avoidance of driving to new or unfamiliar places and scrapes and dents in the car.