A new report commissioned by the RAC Foundation estimates that as many as 50,000 driving licence holders in the UK who turn 70 this year will carry on driving when they are no longer fit to do so. Even more – up to 170,000 – will surrender their licences prematurely.
The report, Driving Choices for the Older Motorist, compiled by the Transport Research Laboratory, also says older motorists need more support when it comes to determining whether they are fit to continue driving, and that the government and medical profession should give more support to people when it comes to making a self-assessment of their fitness to drive.
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, commented: “All drivers should regularly consider their fitness to drive, but matters really come to a head when we reach 70 and have to declare that we are fit to be on the roads.
“In general older drivers have an enviable safety record but it is clear that faced with this critical yes or no decision many motorists simply do not have a realistic view of their capabilities.
“While this will mean there are drivers who are unfit to be on the roads there will be many others who have prematurely hung up their keys.
“This will have a huge impact on their ability to live an active life, access essential services and take part in social activities.
“The RAC Foundation does not support compulsory retesting at a certain age because this presumes that on reaching a particular birthday people’s physical and mental capacities change radically.
“But we do see an important need for an ongoing dialogue with motorists and encouragement from officials and the medical profession for all of us to regularly consider our abilities – whatever our age.”
Currently, when holders of driving licences hit their 70th birthday, and every three years thereafter, they are required to complete a declaration stating whether or not they are fit to keep on driving.
The report, based on analysis of data from a number of countries, finds that self-assessment tools alone are not adequate in determining fitness to drive, and says they are unable to take the place of professional assessment, although the RAC Foundation stops short of calling for compulsory retesting once drivers reach a certain age.
The problem, says the RAC Foundation, is twofold – the current self-assessment regime means that of the half a million people in the UK turning 70 this year alone, an estimated 50,000 will carry on driving when they are no longer fit to do so, but even more, as many as 170,000, will give up driving prematurely.
While no specific study on the issue has been carried out in the UK, those estimates have been compiled based on research in the United States and Australia.
It adds that the issue will become an increasingly pressing one due to the ageing of the UK population, with 17 per cent of people alive in 2010 expected to survive to celebrate their 100th birthday.
The RAC Foundation says that while at present there is no nationwide requirement for use of self-assessment tools, some local authorities, including Devon and Suffolk County Councils, do encourage their use.
One of the chief areas of concern about the fitness of older motorists to drive surrounds the deterioration of vision with age, and a number of cases reported here on road.cc involving cyclist casualties have the driver’s uncorrected vision cited as a factor.
Those include one from North Wales in 2011 in which an 85-year-old man with failing eyesight and other health issues drove for on three miles without apparently being aware that he had ploughed through a group of cyclists, killing one and seriously injuring another.
In 2011, around 6,000 motorists across all age groups had their licences revoked due to defective eyesight. That reflects a continuing upwards trend in recent years, but still equates to only a tiny proportion of motorists, a little over one in 10,000.
With more than 1 million people in the UK over the age of 80 now holding a driving licence, it seems fair to assume that many continue driving when they are no longer able to do so, fearful of the potential isolation and lack of independence they may suffer if they have to give up their car, a theme explored in a 2020 BBC documentary called Taking the Keys Away.
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.