There is no consensus across Governments on whether to retest or re-license older drivers. There is a huge variation across European Countries. Even within the United States different States have different approaches. In Australia there are different rules in Sydney and Melbourne. In France and Austria there is no age limit. In Norway licenses are valid until the 100th birthday. Other countries follow the UK model and require more frequent renewal after 65 or 70. The UK requires a self-declaration that “your doctor is happy with you driving”. In other countries there is mandatory regular medical. In some countries there is even a mandatory driving retest. There is little evidence to justify any restrictions.
Are Older Drivers Dangerous?
I discussed this in a couple of Newsletter very early in the series. (Newsletter # 024: “Fit to Drive” and #026: “Drive until you are 100- carefully”). The findings are clear. Older drivers have the same number of accidents per mile as the vast majority of drivers. They are a lot better than the under 25’s who have significantly more accidents. The data in those Newsletters showed that there was a “uptick” in accidents after the age of 75. Since writing the Newsletters I have seen other data. This shows that the uptick is entirely due to drivers who drive less than 3500Km a year. It is the intermittent older driver that has the problem. Older drivers who continue to drive have very few accidents.
Even when an older driver has an accident, they are a danger to themselves not to other people. Most injuries involve the older driver or their passenger. This is because of their frailty. Sadly, these can be fatal. This explains the finding that older drivers have more fatal accidents. The number of UK pedestrians and cyclists injured by drivers over 65 is the lowest of any age group. Younger drivers who have more accidents are far more likely to injure other people.
In the Newsletters I discussed the way that older people “self-regulate” their driving. They avoid situations that are likely to be more hazardous. Strategically they chose routes and timings to avoid likely problems. Tactically they drive defensively. The result is that they can compensate for any declines in driving ability. They avoid driving in the rain or at night. They are safe drivers. There are exceptions but most people are aware of their own shortfalls.
It is the stereotypes that stop older drivers from carrying on driving. They feel the pressure from young people. Usually, family members are more worried than they should be. The “enemy within” comes into play. That is the internalized stereotype built up throughout life. Often it tells us the “we should not drive we are too old”. Often it has not kept up with the reality of healthy ageing.
Restrictions on Older Drivers Don’t Work.
In Melbourne there are no mandatory assessments of older drivers. In Sydney there is a regular annual medical from 80 onwards and an annual road test from 85. It turns out that the Sydney drivers have a higher casualty crash rate than those in Melbourne. Finland has tough medical based relicensing tests. Sweden does not. Detailed analysis showed no difference in accident rates for drivers. The Netherlands, Sweden and Britain have the highest level of driving license holding. But they have the lowest fatality rates for drivers over 65. A higher proposition of older drivers does not have an adverse effect on road safety.
There is a wide variation in policies for the countries of Europe. This allows for an assessment of the impact of the different practices. A recent study tried to find insights. It turned out that there was no pattern. More restricted access to driving for older drivers did not impact accidents or mortalities. The only that thing that appeared was the the number of pedestrians injured in Finland. It was higher. The authors put this down to the number of drivers becoming pedestrians because of the laws.
The Social Good
One pattern did emerge. In those countries with restrictions people stopped driving earlier. The number of older license holders fell. It seems that the presence of the restrictions triggered more people to give up driving. Mobility for older people fell. That loss of “independence” can have a profound effect. All the research on ageing shows that a sense of independence is a key factor for healthy ageing. Restrictions are bad for individuals. If healthy ageing falls, or does not grow, then the costs of care will rise. Restrictions seem to be bad for Society.
There is no evidence to support the idea that older drivers are worse drivers. There is no evidence that age-based restrictions are beneficial. In fact, there is evidence that they are bad for the cost of care and thus Society. Why do the restrictions exist? Because of age based discrimination. Because of the use of inappropriate stereotypes by Government and large parts of Society. Because of Ageism.