What age-related factors could affect your ability to drive safely?
For many years there has been a debate as to whether drivers should have to resit their driving test when they reach the age of 70. Currently drivers must apply for a new driving licence when they reach 70, and every subsequent three years. However, there is no requirement for any medical tests or a driving assessment. The driver just has to declare that they don’t have any condition which will prevent them from driving.
As we get older, our health can deteriorate with worsening eyesight and hearing. Our reaction times get slower, our perception of speed alters and our spatial skills change. On the other hand, we have years of experience and we are not as likely to drive too fast or recklessly.
Data from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) shows that there are more than 5 million drivers over the age of 70 in the UK, far more than young drivers. But statistically it is drivers between the ages of 17 and 24 who cause the most accidents on the UKs roads.
Surveys have shown that many people believe that the driving test system needs a complete overhaul. There is a feeling that there should be an extended and more stringent learning period for young drivers and compulsory testing for those over 70. The introduction of these measures could remove doubt from the issues.
But, is age really the issue? There are more than 265 UK drivers over the age of 100 who are considered to be completely competent. Yet, there may be many drivers under 70 who for one reason or another might not be fit to drive. It is about ability and competence, not age.
This has been recently highlighted by the announcement that random eyesight tests are to be conducted by the police at the roadside, with those who fail having their driving licence revoked instantly. You must be able to read a car number plate from a distance of at least 20 metres, with glasses or contact lenses if needed. Regular eye tests will pick up any deficiency in your sight.
When to Give Up Your Licence
In the UK, as in other European countries, you must renew your photo licence every ten years. But in Spain, for example, each time you renew, you must undertake a basic medical test to check your blood pressure, eyesight and hearing. In addition, there is a simulated test for your driving ability and reactions. Failing those can result in you having to take a full medical and a new driving test. A similar system in the UK would pick up early some conditions which might affect your driving ability.
Unfortunately, as it stands in the UK, many of those who may not be fit to drive only give up their car keys after having an accident. Where somebody has been killed or seriously injured, this is especially tragic and should have been avoided. By law you have to inform the DVLA if you have any condition, whether temporary or permanent, that affects your ability to drive. If you fail to do so, you can be fined up to £1000 and, if you have an accident as a result, you can be prosecuted.
Sadly, many people won’t accept or admit to themselves when they have such a condition. One of the problems is that some conditions worsen so gradually that the person may not even be aware that they are not necessarily safe to drive. If you have a condition that might affect your driving, either now or in the future, you should have regular check ups to monitor it and take advice from your GP as to whether you should stop driving.
Of course, it might not be a medical condition or your age that makes you think you shouldn’t drive any more. Becoming aware that your reactions are getting noticeably slower than they once were, being easily distracted, suffering a decrease in your confidence, or you are finding it increasingly stressful in the general traffic conditions may be enough to make you hang up your car keys for good.
Medical Conditions Which Affect Driving
It is compulsory to notify the DVLA of certain medical conditions. Visual impairments, such as glaucoma or cataracts which prevent you meeting the minimum standard of vision for driving. Suffering an epileptic fit will result in your licence being taken away, but you may get it back under some circumstances.
A stroke or other neurological condition and some mental health issues need to be notified and can stop you from driving, as can Parkinson’s disease or dementia. You must also tell the DVLA if you have low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia).
Some temporary conditions can also affect your ability to drive. A head injury, even a minor one can affect your concentration and may cause blurred vision for some time after the event. You shouldn’t drive for at least a month after a heart attack or heart surgery. If you have any concerns about your ability to drive, you should consult your GP.
How to Tell a Loved One Not to Drive
When you become concerned about the driving of a relative, especially a parent, it is incredibly difficult to talk to them about giving up. It needs to be done gently and tactfully. They may not accept that their ability is failing or might just think that you are trying to take away their independence.
If they won’t listen to reason and you have serious concerns about their safety and that of other road users, you could talk to their GP or, as a last resort, report them to the DVLA, anonymously if you choose.
Accidents Involving Unfit Drivers
If you are involved in a road accident with someone who it later turns out was not fit to drive, they will be liable to prosecution and you could have grounds to claim compensation. Consult the LegalHelpline.co.uk for advice on how to make a claim.