Number of drivers aged over 80 tops 1 million, while Downing Street to consider insurance costs for younger motorists

Articles in two national newspapers today highlight issues relating to drivers at opposite ends of the age spectrum – the growing number of older motorists, giving rise to questions over whether they should face compulsory eyesight and health checks as well as retaking their driving tests, and the difficulty younger ones have in obtaining insurance.

As reported here on road.cc in October, currently there are more than 3 million people in the UK aged 71 and over who hold driving licences.

Today, The Daily Telegraph reports that road safety charity IAM has discovered through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) that more than 1 million of Britain’s drivers are aged over 80.

Currently, motorists have to reapply for their licence on their 70th birthday and every three years after that, with the burden on the driver to inform the DVLA of any change in their medical situation, including any deterioration of eyesight.

Previously disclosed DVLA data for 2010 reveal however that during that year, only one in 10,000 motorists were refused renewal of their licence on grounds of defective eyesight.

While doctors are required to inform the authorities that their patients are unfit to drive, calls for compulsory retesting to be introduced, have been rebuffed by successive governments.

The Daily Telegraph points out that many of the centenarians still driving will never have been required to undertake a driving test in the first place – it dates from 1935.

The IAM says that “contrary to common assumptions, drivers in their eighties are not dangerous,” pointing out that drivers aged between 17 and 19 are three times more likely to be involved in a crash than those aged 80 and over; drivers aged 20-24 are 36.4 per cent more likely than those older drivers to be involved in one.

However, it added that while older motorists are more likely to suffer serious injuries in the event of a crash, they are less likely to be involved in one in the first place.

IAM chief executive Simon Best underlined that for many aged motorists, their car represented independence and that only in extreme circumstances should they be required to surrender their driving licences.

“Older people need their cars which give them better mobility and access to more activities and services,” he explained.

“Those who wish to continue driving beyond the age of 70 should only be prevented from doing so if there are compelling reasons.

“Rather than seeking to prevent older people from driving, we should make them more aware of the risks they face, and offer them driving assessments to help them eliminate bad habits.

“Driving helps older people play a full and active part in society,” he added.

Demographic trends mean that the proportion of older drivers will continue to increase over the coming decades, and within the next 20 years, there are projected to be nearly 5 million more people aged 75 and above than there are now, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Robert Gifford , executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, told The Daily Telegraph: “Older drivers are not necessarily less safe drivers.

“Their frailty makes them more at risk; their driving does not make them a risk to others.

‘That said,” he continued, ‘I think it is really important to consider some kind of driving assessment for older drivers involved in crashes or incidents resulting in penalty points.

“A course might lead them to consider giving up driving altogether, making themselves and other road users safer.”

Last year, the RAC Foundation said in a report that ““many drivers will retire from driving at too early a stage while others will go on beyond the point where it is safe to do so.”

One case reported here on road.cc in November does underline that continuing to drive when infirm through age can have tragic consequences, with an 85-year-old driver ploughing through a group of five cyclists, killing one and seriously injuring another, and entirely unaware of what had happened until told about it later.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reports that the insurance industry is proposing that newly qualified drivers should be banned from driving unless accompanied by an experienced driver over the age of 25 as one potential measure to combat the spiralling cost of cover for younger motorists.

It added that the proposal was due to be put forward at a meeting on the issue at Downing Street today, and that the introduction of such a probationary period will be considered by the Department for Transport (DfT).

Other issues on the agenda, according to the Mail, are a clampdown on the prevalence of whiplash claims, greater provision of medical evidence to support compensation claims, a ban on referral fees earned by claims management companies, and agreement to reduce the £1,200 fee solicitors can charge to pursue small personal injury claims.

According to the newspaper, 1,500 whiplash claims are made in Britain each day, costing the insurance industry £2 billion a year, equivalent to £90 for each motor insurance policy in force. It adds that legal fees cost the industry another £4 billion a year.

The effect on insurance premiums is being particularly keenly felt by the young, with average premiums close to £3,000 for young male drivers and more than £1,600 for women.

Prime Minister David Cameron insists that the government is committed to taking action to cut the cost of insurance premiums to the motorist.

However, consumer organsiation Which? is reportedly boycotting the summit at Number Ten because of fears that genuine claimants will miss out on compensation, pointing out that rocketing premiums are due to the fees taken by lawyers, claims management firms, garages, car hire firms and insurers themselves.

Richard Lloyd, executive director at Which?, explained that the proposals would put the burden on motorists themselves to provide a solution to the issues, adding, “The Government needs to be on the side of the consumer.”


Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.