Is licence testing for older drivers a good idea?

As soon as an older driver is involved in a crash it stirs up debate about when or if our senior citizens should be forced to hang up the keys for good.

This is in spite of the fact that drivers over the age of 70 are one of the safest demographic groups on the road. The idea that once a driver turns 70 they should be subject to mandatory licence testing fails because it ignores one simple principle – impairment, not age, is the key to determining whether someone should be behind the wheel or not.

impairment, not age, is the key to determining whether someone should be behind the wheel

So why are older drivers so often criticised when frankly most have been around the block more times than they care to remember?

Surely the older driver is more capable of dealing with different driving situations because of their years of experience?

As a group, older drivers are not fundamentally poorer drivers. In fact, research shows that older drivers are generally considered to be safe, experienced, cautious and more law-abiding.

older drivers are generally safe, experienced, cautious and more law-abiding

Let’s look at the facts. Older drivers are not overrepresented in the road toll, with just 16 percent of all drivers killed on Victorian roads involving those aged 70 years and over. Compare this to younger drivers. As we know, it is young P plate drivers who have just obtained their licence who are at the greatest risk on our roads and record the highest number of fatalities. Drivers aged 18-25 years make up 22 percent of all drivers killed on Victorian roads.

Everyone ages differently and there is no specific age at which driving ability deteriorates. It is when an individual – regardless of their age – finds their vision weakened or their reaction time reduced that they must consider whether they are fit to drive. It’s important to remember that these physical conditions can happen to anyone, at any age.

there is no specific age at which driving ability deteriorates

Research shows that age-based licence retesting in other Australian states and overseas has not been effective in reducing the number of older driver crashes.

At this stage, no licence screening tests are available anywhere in the world that can accurately and effectively discriminate between safe and unsafe older drivers. Compulsory retesting of older drivers would not produce any road safety benefits, including a reduction in the road toll.

RACV believes that every driver should take responsibility for their own driving ability and be able to continue to drive for as long as they are safe to do so.

Assessing their fitness to drive and being aware of early warning signs is the best way to make sure someone is not putting themselves, and others, at risk on the road.

being aware of early warning signs is the best way to make someone is not putting themselves, and others, at risk

All drivers – regardless of their age – need to monitor their health and ability to drive and reduce the risk on the road to themselves and other road users. And what we do know is that many older people do make the right judgements about their driving and limit their driving to situations that they feel comfortable with, or stop driving altogether.

It also needs to be considered that older pedestrians are more vulnerable than older drivers, with pedestrians over 70 years of age accounting for 33% of all pedestrians killed on our roads. Removing someone’s licence from them can potentially make them more exposed to death and serious injury as a pedestrian.

Giving up a licence can have a huge impact on an individual’s quality of life and their health, and should only be applied when there is a safety risk because of an individual’s impairment.

Road safety presentation for older drivers

The RACV Years Ahead program is a one hour road safety awareness program designed for older road users. It is available free of charge to groups across Victoria.

Written by Melinda Spiteri, Manager Road User Behaviour
September 23, 2016