The IAM, which has branches all over the world, including here in Australia, has called on the UK government to introduce driver health checks for drivers over a certain age to ensure that they are still capable of being in control of over a tonne of metal at 100kph.
Their initial suggestions are for tests for drivers aged 70 and over, of which there are four million in the UK. In NSW Roads and Maritime requires drivers aged 85 and over to complete a test every two years to maintain their licence if they drive a car or ride a motorbike. From aged 75 they have to have annual medical reviews. Heavy vehicle drivers in classes LR, MR, HR and HC require annual driving assessments from 80 years old.
In November 2013, Western Australia, the only other state with a similar scheme, abandoned it citing discrimination. South Australia announced that it would abolish mandatory medical testing of those aged 70 and over last December. Victoria doesn’t have any kind of test or assessment and the accident rates are slightly better than NSW, although in January Victoria Police revealed figures that show road users over the age of 75 accounted for almost as many accidents as those aged 18-24 (12% vs 13%), and there is concern.
Why is the IAM heading down this road in the UK?
The main reason is to help introduce a voluntary assessment scheme as well as provide information to enable the offspring of elderly drivers to broach the subject with the drivers. The assessments could be run on and offline.
IAM also made vague references to changes in road design to make it easier for older drivers, and urged vehicle manufacturers to consider older drivers when designing vehicles. We are rapidly approaching a point where cars could be fundamentally autonomous and that would solve much of the issues around the elderly driving, as long as they can afford a car with those functions, such as systems that help keep a car within a lane, or brake automatically if there’s an obstacle ahead.
Do we think this is a good idea?
Giving people support and knowledge for how to evaluate whether it’s still safe to drive is a good idea, whether that’s the drivers themselves, or their children. This will only be used by conscientious drivers, though, and those who might be forced into it via some kind of law enforcement.
Having an age limit is practical, but given that people’s faculties don’t decline uniformly, it’s never going to be perfect. Additionally, there are many people who drive with their reactions dulled because they are in a perpetual state of tiredness (we think they are called ‘parents’).
Measuring any kind of driving performance cannot be purely empirical. Driving represents freedom for many, especially in remoter locations where there is little or no public transport. While Australia’s road toll is heading in the right direction with a drop of 9% in fatalities from 2012 to 2013, figures show that the number of actual accidents involving drivers aged 75 and over are on the rise.
Let’s not forget that in order to test for any kind of proficiency there has to be some criteria around who should be taking the test. Age is something that is concrete and easy to measure. If a person passes or fails then this is based purely on aptitude and not that they are a particular age. It may be that they have been driving their whole lives unable to drive safely, but unless we have compulsory retesting for all drivers this is impossible to evaluate.