Should there be compulsory re-tests for the over 70s?

The RAC Foundation has revealed the number of drivers aged 70 or over has surpassed the four million mark for the first time, including almost 200 centenarians, and that figure is only set to grow as over ten million of us are now expected to live to see our 100th birthday. The oldest of those licence holders is a 107-year-old woman, while the oldest man is a comparatively youthgul 106. But while it’s accepted that keeping older people active, independent and mobile is key to their mental and physical wellbeing, is the current system of self-certification putting other road users at risk?

Too old for the road?

As it stands, once motorists reach 70 they must reapply for their licence every three years. They can do so without taking a further driving test or medical examination provided they can meet the minimum eyesight requirement and aren’t prevented from driving for any reason. This can be done either by post using the D46P application form, which the DVLA will automatically send out 90 days before their 70th birthday, or via the DVLA website – and although drivers must declare any medical conditions that could affect their driving, it’s effectively up to them to decide whether or not they’re fit for the road. In order to help older drivers decide whether or not it’s time to hang up the car keys, Rica, a national research charity for older and disabled people, has produced Driving safely for life and older drivers are encouraged to take the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) Experience Driver Assessment. In all honesty, though, how many of us would actually admit to not being fit to drive? And could it be said that, up to a point, age is a pretty arbitrary concept and it’s not so much a question of age, and more a question of health and attitude? Let’s take a look at the stats…

Are older drivers any more of a risk than other road users?

Unless you take out a telematics-based policy, your car insurance premium is largely based upon a series of statistics and assumptions, so what do the stats say about older drivers? It’s widely accepted that young drivers pose the greatest insurance risk, and so pay the highest premiums, and figures show that drivers over 70 are as safe as drivers aged 25. And although drivers over the age of 80 are less safe, they’re still not as big a risk as teenage drivers. In fact, drivers over the age of 70 may actually be among the safest and most considerate on the road as figures from the AA show how over half of drivers over 75 say they leave longer stopping distances between themselves and cars in front and are more cautious than when they were in their 50s. In addition, many also avoid heavy traffic, long journeys, night driving and motorways. The fact there’s no evidence to suggest driving gets particularly worse with age, although it could be said things get noticeably risker after the age of 80, is this a good enough reason to not have compulsory re-testing? The RAC Foundation appears to believe so, as its press release on this subject says: “The RAC Foundation does not support compulsory retesting at a set age because this presumes that on reaching a particular birthday people’s physical and mental capacities change radically. But we do see an important need for an ongoing dialogue with motorists and encouragement from officials and the medical profession for all of us to regularly consider our abilities – whatever our age.” However, could there not be an argument to say that the age of 70 could be used as a cut-off point, and so all drivers should be re-tested every five years thereafter? The test shouldn’t necessarily be a copy of the current driving test - it should be flexible enough to into account 60 years of driving and the bad driving that can creep in during that time.  Any drivers who meet the required standard will have nothing to worry about, while those who aren’t fit for the road won’t be able to put themselves or other road users at risk. There’s a minimum age at which you’re considered mature enough to start driving, so why not a maximum age when you have to be reassessed? What do you think of older drivers? Are those who are past retirement age also past being fit to drive? Or do their years of experience behind the wheel make them among the safest on the roads? Leave your comments below or let us know on Twitter using the hashtag #MSMMotoringBlog

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