How older drivers can stay mobile for longer

With decades worth of driving experience, over 70s should - in theory - be seen as the safest group of drivers on the roads.

In practice, however, many drivers are finding that hitting the big 7-0 means a swift introduction to a raft of motoring headaches, from rising insurance premiums to three-yearly licence renewals.

It’s a frustrating situation for those who, after years of careful and courteous driving, are forced to wade through mountains of red tape as they watch their younger, and at times less competent counterparts performing dubious manoeuvres on the roads.

More exasperating still is the fact that earlier this year the Older Drivers Task Force, which is made up of more than 25 experts and organisations, recommended raising the mandatory ‘fitness to drive self-declaration for licence renewal’ from 70 to 75-years-old on the basis that an eyesight test is made compulsory.

But, until the government chooses to implement those recommendations, the current law remains in place.

Fortunately not much phases the over-70s; these hardy drivers – 4.5million of them in fact - are still turning out in force. And, according to Confused.com, only 16,924 motorists over the age of 70 (that’s 0.4% of drivers in that age group) had their licences removed last year because they were deemed unfit to drive.

So why do drivers over 70 continue to be classed as higher risk?

Sergeant Rob Heard, Chair of non-profit organisation Older Drivers Forum who also sits on the Older Drivers Task Force says: “We know that older motorists have a wealth of experience, confidence and tolerance. However, sight, hearing, reaction time and judgment of speed and distance may not be as sharp as it once was.

“Casualty rates do increase for car drivers aged over about 75, and the fatality rate increases significantly.

“That’s why I passionately believe that drivers should take regular eye-tests – and should see the self-renewal driving licence age limit raised to 75 as a result.”

So where does the law stand on older motorists? Kirsty Ruddin, legal expert from Just Motor Law, a specialist division of Kirwans law firm, explains: “If you are over 70, you are perfectly entitled to continue driving as long as you are safe to do so, and you renew your driving licence every three years, which you can do either online, or by picking up a D1 application form from the Post Office if you haven’t received a renewal reminder through the post.

“However, there are some stipulations that come with that. No matter what your age, you have a duty to inform the DVLA of any new medical conditions which may affect your ability to drive safely, or the worsening of current ones.

“Not only can a failure to do so result in fines of up to £1,000, it can also mean that, if you are involved in an accident and it turns out your medical condition was a contributing factor, you could be prosecuted and your insurance may be invalid.”

In addition, Kirsty explains, there are other legal considerations to take into account when it comes to driving – and these apply whether you’re 17 or 70.

“In March 2015, new laws were introduced which made it illegal to drive while taking certain prescription or over-the-counter medicines if it impairs your driving,” she says.

“If you’ve been prescribed any medication, you should talk to your doctor about whether you are fit to drive.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, certain stipulations are also set out by the DVLA in relation to eyesight.

These include being able to meet the DVLA’s standards of vision for driving which involves being able to read, with the help of glasses or contact lenses if needs be, a car number plate made after September 1, 2001, from 20 metres.

There are other, additional tests to ensure minimum eyesight standard and an adequate field of vision, which your optician should be able to advise you on.

So any final words of advice? “Keep renewing your licence, stay on top of your health checks, and most importantly, drive regularly so that you don’t lose your confidence on the roads,” says Kirsty.

“People are living longer than ever before, and it’s only right that they are given every opportunity to drive well into their eighties and beyond.”

* Sgt Rob Heard is currently offering free safe motoring talks to U3A members. Request a visit through the form on the Older Drivers Forum website, www.olderdriversforum.com
* The Older Drivers Forum’s partners offer driving low-cost driving appraisals. Go to www.olderdrivers.org.uk for more information.
* Kirsty Ruddin can be contacted at [email protected]

As Featured In: U3A Magazine

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