Elderly Drivers: When Is It Time To Stop Getting Behind The Wheel?

As we age we know that certain things are going to start declining or slowing down; our eyesight, our strength, our reactions...and while in most situations these can be compensated for with prescription glasses, taking more time and care over things, or asking someone to help us, the one area that really does rely on you being able to think and react quickly, and to always have your wits about you, is driving.

 


At the moment in the UK, drivers over the age of 70 must declare they are fit to drive every three years, but they don’t have to take a driving or medical exam.

 


But should they?

 


Well, an older driver isn’t necessarily a worse driver. In fact, research carried out by the RAC Foundation found that drivers over the age of 75 account for just 4.3% of deaths and serious injuries on the road, despite making up 6% of all licence holders.

 


In contrast, drivers aged 16-20, who only make up 2.5% of all drivers on the road, cause 13% of traffic-related deaths and serious injuries.

 


The RAC Foundation doesn’t support the idea of compulsory testing for older drivers, stating that every individual is different and that older drivers aren’t necessarily unsafe drivers, although it does acknowledge that those over 70 are more likely to have accidents in locations such as at high-speed junctions, slip-roads onto motorways and dual carriageways.

 


It’s also maybe unsurprising to learn that those over the age of 80 are more likely to be seriously injured or killed in car accidents than other age groups.

 


There are huge benefits to being able to drive for as long as possible; staying independent, and being able to visit family and friends for example, and there’s evidence to suggest that when older people suddenly stop driving, that lack of mobility can contribute to feelings of loneliness, depression and feeling cut off from society.

 


It seems to be agreed all round - both by driving groups and associations, as well as by older drivers themselves, that when it comes to safety on the road, arbitrary age limits aren’t the answer.

 


However….

 


I’m sure we’ve all heard a story of someone’s nan mistaking the accelerator for the brake and ending up in someone’s garden….or know about an elderly man who drove the wrong way up the motorway...or perhaps the older lady who got confused at the roundabout and caused a 4 car pile up. It happens - and although not definitive - age could certainly be a contributing factor.

 


And, while it’s true that younger drivers have the highest number of overall accidents, they also do a lot more miles, leading some to point out that older drivers have more incidents per mile.

 


But, by 2025, drivers aged 65 and over will make up 25% of the driving population, compared to just 15% in 2001 - and we can’t just ban them all from the roads!

 


If you fall into this age group yourself, or you have an older loved one who is still driving, the key is to be aware of any physical or mental health changes that could affect driving ability.

 

 

 

Why Might An Older Person Want To Continue Driving

 

 

 

The reasons are varied and many, with a lot of older people probably wondering why, as grown adults, there are concerns about them continuing to do something they’ve done for years with no issues - especially if it’s ‘young people’ causing all the accidents!

 


Reasons include:

 


Maintaining their independence
A sense of freedom
Not having to rely on other people
Needing to get to the shops or to doctors appointments
It’s something they’ve always done

 

Unless there’s been a sudden change to someone’s health, it’s likely that any changes affecting driving ability have happened slowly and gradually over time, making them difficult to identify as a reason to stop driving.

 

 

 

And What Are The Reasons They Should Probably Stop

 

 

 

All drivers are different, and just because one person should probably stop driving at 75, doesn’t mean that there aren’t 89-year-olds on the road who are putting their younger contemporaries to shame!

 


However, here are some indicators that you should consider when it comes to driving if you (or someone you love) happen to be older.

 

-Sudden changes to health such as a heart attack or stroke
-Having more difficulty parking than you used too
-Failing eyesight or hearing
-Become disorientated
-Having near misses or accidents
-Becoming confused in traffic
-Drifting into other lanes while driving
-Missing signs and signals
-Increased levels of anxiety when driving
-Getting lost or confused in areas you used to be comfortable and familiar with
-Having a long-term medical condition such as diabetes, dementia, Parkinson’s or arthritis

 

It’s important to remember that the safety of yourself and other road users is paramount when it comes to making the decision of how long to remain behind the wheel.

 


If you’re concerned that either yourself as an older person or an elderly loved one, might lose independence once driving is no longer a possibility, please get in touch with Care In Kent to see how we can help.

 


We offer a range of at-home care services, including running errands and helping with shopping, which can be difficult once you are no longer on the road.

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