Rise Of The Old Drivers

For as long as I can remember, ‘old people’ have been represented on television and elsewhere as being decrepit denizens of bowls clubs, bingo halls and old folks homes. It is as patronising as saying that all young people are drug addicts. Even the former ‘so-called’ presenters of Top Gear used to place everyone over sixty into the slow lane of life, usually in a Peugeot.

The assumption is, and always has been, that people over sixty-five are falling apart at the seams and shouldn’t be allowed out alone lest they endanger themselves or others, especially in cars. Now, I am a great supporter of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) but as we learn that the number of drivers age 70 or older is now rising by more than 10,000 a month, the IAM is calling for the government, medical professionals and assessment providers to come together to address the needs of this generation of motorists. I’m not so sure I agree.

The call comes in light of figures showing for the first time there are now more than 4.34 million licence holders over 70 on our roads; 320,000 more than three years ago – an increase of 11% from 3.9 million in 2012. The 323,631 increase in the past 31 months amounts to an average additional increase of 10,440 drivers age 70 and over on UK roads per month.

Over 80’s broke the one million number last year and increased by over 100,000 since then and there are more than 11,000 more licence holders in their 90s compared to three years ago, an increase of 16%, while there are now 232 rheumy-eyed racers over 100, a rise of 70 on three years ago. This is not a cause for concern, it should be applauded that the doddery ones can still keep on keeping on.

Sarah Sillars, IAM chief executive officer, said: “People are living longer and therefore there are many more drivers on the roads that are past retirement age. We want these drivers to enjoy their motoring for as long as possible, so we want some thought and resources to go into how we can allow this to happen.” Those last few words are key. Sarah Sillars remarks are no doubt well meant but could be interpreted differently by some. At what point, do you suppose, should the state start sticking its beak even further into ordinary peoples’ driving lives?

IAM research shows that the most common factors in a road accident involving a person over 70 were: failing to judge the other person’s path or speed, poor turn-in or manoeuvre, losing control, illness or disability, dazzling sun; and nervousness, anxiety or panic. It added those factors were typical of deteriorating physical and cognitive functioning. Well, it comes to us all.

It is one thing to be concerned about road safety but it is another issue entirely to begin even considering curbs on or incursions into the old codger’s right to drive. Figures show that older drivers are proven to be the safest on the roads. Previous analysis by the IAM found that older drivers are involved in a smaller number of injury accidents than drivers under the age of 60. In 2011, people over 70 made up nine per cent of drivers but six per cent of driver casualties, while drivers under 30 made up 20 per cent of drivers but 35 per cent of casualties.

And isn’t that the point? Why call for action about something that doesn’t need fixing? In every single case of old drivers in my extended family over the years, they have all come to the realisation that the game was up entirely of their own volition.

The IAM want a government action plan for older drivers that includes the following: More car manufacturers considering older drivers in vehicle design. The fact is they are already well aware of this ageing demographic – they’re the ones with the money. Volkswagen is a case in point and the Golf SV is an example with its raised hip-point seats and easy to use dashboard. They ask for better information for older drivers and their families; there is already plenty out there on government, NHS and motoring organisation websites.

There’s a suggestion for an online self-assessment tools for older drivers, wider availability of voluntary on-road driving assessments and ‘better partnership working at a local level’ (whatever that means). Frankly, I can’t see anybody providing driving assessments, voluntary or otherwise, for free and in any event, drivers over a certain age have to renew their licence more frequently and must tell the DVLA what bits of them are breaking down, if any. To not do so will negate insurance so no sensible ancient one is going to try and dodge the issue.

There should always be a dialogue about road safety and I generally welcome comment from the IAM, but it seems to me there can come a point when interested parties begin scratching around for the next point of view or slice of legislation. The fact is that whilst some old people may suffer in old age there are plenty out there who are fit, active and still contributing to society (see the legend below). Don’t push your luck because, to paraphrase W.H.Auden, old age ‘…is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic’. Those that call for unnecessary controls on older drivers would do well to remember that – one day they’ll hear it too.
Geoff Maxted