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Licence to kill?

Tuesday 22nd January | News

by Claire Jansz

The Duke of Edinburgh’s recent car accident has raised the controversial question of whether elderly drivers should have to retake their driving test at some point.

As the law currently stands, drivers must apply to renew their licence when they turn 70 and every three years thereafter, but the effectiveness of this requirement, in terms of road safety, is questionable, given that the onus is on the driver to self-certify as being fit to drive. Whilst drivers are legally obliged to tell the DVLA if they develop dementia, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, certain forms of diabetes and any condition that affects their eyesight, there is no obligation on them to retake their driving test or undergo a medical examination. There is not even any obligation to undergo an eye test.

We have an increasingly ageing population, and in July 2017, DVLA figures showed that out of 39 million licenced drivers, the number over the age of 90 was around 100,000 with more than 4.5 million drivers being over the age of 70. A survey by insurance provider, Rias, found that one in five motorists over 50 believed that they would fail their driving test if they had to retake it today.

However, according to Department for Transport statistics, young drivers are involved in more accidents than older drivers, with 17 to 21 year-olds being three to four times more likely to have an accident than 70 year-olds.So do experience on the road and perhaps a higher degree of caution, count for more than passing a test?

It is generally accepted that part of the ageing process involves fading eyesight and poorer reaction times. Moreover, medication can affect drowsiness and traffic situations can cause increased stress in the elderly, possibly leading to mistakes, but is this a reason to force older people to retake their driving tests?

Alternatively, is the risk of depriving a percentage of the elderly of their independence by removing their driving licence if they fail a retest, possibly leading to a decline in mental health, a reason not to enforce it and not to ensure that everyone behind a wheel is safe to drive?

No matter what age you are, if you are concerned about your driving, you can book an Experienced Driver Assessment with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. This costs £35 and is not a test, but you will receive a report on your driving and advice about how you can improve your skills and drive more safely. Should this be compulsory? If so, at what age? Such assessments were one of the suggestions put to the government in a 2017 consultation, alongside compulsory eye tests at the age of 75 and an increase in the age for notifying the DVLA of any medical conditions which may affect driving, from 70 to 75. Despite the consultation, no new laws were brought in.

In Ireland, drivers over 70 need a medical certificate to retain their driving licence. In Denmark it is the same and those drivers must also retest every two years.More controversially, Finnish drivers must renew their standard licence every five years from the age of 45 and they need a doctor’s certificate over 70. The law must strike a balance between safety on our roads and mobility and independence for the elderly, but should the balance now tip in favour of safety for all?

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