Report estimates 50,000 people in UK turning 70 this year will keep driving when no longer fit to do so

As many as 170,000 will surrender licence prematurely says RAC Foundation, calling for more support for self-assessment

by Simon_MacMichael   February 27, 2013  

Driving Choices for the Older Motorist report cover

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 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.


15 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Despite being registered blind and therefore having a blue disabled badge, my gran who is 91, still declares herself as fit to drive, although my mum fills in the form because my gran can't see it. I have reported her to the authorities but they are unable/unwilling to do anything about it, this is a ridiculous state of affairs, elderly motorists cannot be trusted to be responsible about this and at the very least sight and reaction times should be retested. Personally I am in favour of a full retest, including theory.

posted by drfabulous0 [407 posts]
27th February 2013 - 17:40


Everyone should be retested every 5 years - not just the old folks.

posted by qwerky [185 posts]
27th February 2013 - 18:37


A retest every 10 years for everyone - including theory - might weed out the incompetent. I'm sure quite a lot of drivers have never seen a Highway Code since they passed their test, and a retest would focus minds. Then perhaps a reaction and sight test (with specs if needed). Which would help a lot. Personally, I will be taking an IAM (been an "advanced" driver/moto rider for years) assessment 3 yearly from about 65, just to make sure I'm still reasonably OK. But then, I'm interested in other people's safety as well as my own!


posted by doc [167 posts]
27th February 2013 - 18:40


Another take on this, not just the age issue, but from the health perspective:
I've been diagnosed with cancer and just been through a rather intense 67 day period of very strong chemo. At no point in all my treatment was it ever mentioned that I couldn't drive after treatment. However, there were days when I could barely lift my head off the pillow, but I could, if I wanted, gone out and driven. (I didn't)
I had my dad running me around for the most part of my treatment, and did some driving myself only when I was fit to.

cw42's picture

posted by cw42 [35 posts]
27th February 2013 - 19:18


I was knocked over by an old woman driving up our side of the road round a corner. Had my arm smashed to pieces and received two major operations to sort it out. She had absolutely no idea what she'd done and one of my mates had to stand in front of her car so she couldn't drive away. The police had to visit her on two occasions, on their second visit she had no idea she'd knocked me down and couldn't remember the police visiting her the first time. Charges were never brought against her but she had to give up her license. I still shudder when I think that it could have been one of the many families from the area that go out cycling on that route. On the plus side I got a huge payout from her insurance company Wink

posted by iamelectron [161 posts]
27th February 2013 - 20:23


That first comment is very shocking. It shows that the system isn't working.

posted by Tom Amos [246 posts]
27th February 2013 - 20:43


Tom Amos wrote:
That first comment is very shocking. It shows that the system isn't working.

It never has - it presumes our unalienable "right to drive" over and above everything else, even personal fitness.

My grandfather had several (very minor) prangs before we finally convinced him to give up driving. He was an absolute menace; couldn't see very well, couldn't judge distance/speed accurately yet his doctor could do nothing about it. Ridiculous situation.

Mandatory retests (inc sight) and the ability of a health professional to revoke your licence should be law.

posted by crazy-legs [658 posts]
27th February 2013 - 21:25


Terrifying. If the people who actively (or secretly) want to force us cyclist off the road cannot achieve their aims, and the incompetence and lack of funds of councils don't do likewise, it seems possible that the ageing population might just manage it.

posted by ubercurmudgeon [170 posts]
27th February 2013 - 22:45


Tom Amos wrote:
it presumes our unalienable "right to drive" over and above everything else, even personal fitness.

And there-in lies the root of the problem. Driving should
be a privilege NOT a right and re-testing every 5 years.
HGV and PSV are retested regularly so should private
drivers !

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [927 posts]
28th February 2013 - 10:04


Of course the RAC don't want compulsory testing of fitness to drive. Less licences = less members. Thinking

onward ever onward

bikecellar's picture

posted by bikecellar [264 posts]
28th February 2013 - 10:06


I have the answer!!

I'm 65; and I suggest everyone who can pass a cycling proficiency test (basically ride a bicycle)to a high degree of proficiency? then they are OK to drive! Hey we're all gonna get there some day, don't knock the elderly. I've been knocked off my bike 3, times; and none of the drivers would be considered OLD. Very few accidents are caused by drivers over 70.

posted by Mostyn [430 posts]
28th February 2013 - 11:55


posted by [169 posts]
28th February 2013 - 13:11


drfabulous0, are you a real doctor?

Because if you are, you'd doubtless be aware you have a responsibility to take action, where you see a significant risk of someone causing death or serious harm.

Maybe you could have a chat with your grandmother? Or her GP? Or continue to contact the DVLA until something is done about it?

PJ McNally's picture

posted by PJ McNally [602 posts]
28th February 2013 - 15:40


compulsary retesting is the only real way forward, make drivers remember driving is a privilage not a right.

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1900 posts]
28th February 2013 - 16:39


The major barrier to compulsary re-testing would be that, unless the tests were free, they would be viewed as a 'stealth tax' and would never be accepted by the majority of motorists.

posted by Matt eaton [714 posts]
29th April 2013 - 16:19