There are more older drivers using the UK’s roads in 2022 than ever before. This is true both in actual numbers, and by proportion. The DVLA has published figures reporting 5.7 million drivers who are aged 70 or over, which is a rise of 10% in a single year, and brings this age group up to 12% of the entire driving population. Within the group, about 111,000 of these drivers are actually over 90. Older drivers, therefore, are an important part of the motoring environment and more likely to drive vehicles which pass the MOT test; but many of them also feel threatened by recent government announcements.
There has been a growing debate in recent years over the safety or otherwise of older drivers. When the late Duke of Edinburgh overturned his car and immediately surrendered his licence, this was proof for some that, at 97, he was “too old” to be driving. The fact that the accident happened at a notorious blind spot, made worse by the angle of the sun, and that the Duke took evasive action which possibly saved another driver’s life, was barely mentioned. It is at least possible that, had he been 50 years younger, he would have been hailed as a hero. Instead, his age was widely used as evidence that, after a certain age, different rules should apply to drivers.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) is already part of the national debate on the subject. The Road Safety Foundation runs an Older Driver Task Force, part of the Older Drivers Forum; both organizations backed by the UK government and local police forces. The Task Force has recommended to the DVLA that it introduce mandatory eye tests for drivers of 75 years and older. Other groups have recommended health testing for all drivers, although the suggestion is that this testing would be mainly aimed at older drivers. (Given the shortages of staff and funding in the NHS, it is indeed very likely that testing every motorist would be seen as far too costly.)
There are already measures in place that are targeted at older drivers. Under the DVLA’s rules, any motorist coming up to 70 years of age must apply for a new driving licence, regardless of how clean their current licence is. This then has to be renewed every three years thereafter. There is a minimum eyesight requirement attached to these renewals, as well as a condition stipulating the applicant has not been adjudged by their doctor of being unsafe to drive. In many ways, then, this is exactly the kind of health check recommended by road safety groups, carried out every three years.
These existing checks do not go far enough for some pressure groups, however. One contribution to the national debate is that there should be a maximum driving age introduced. This would be a blanket ban, and would not take into account a driver’s past record, their health or competence. There have also been suggestions like fitting “telematics” equipment to vehicles, so that, for instance, drivers over a certain age would have to limit themselves to places within 20 miles of their home.
Not surprisingly, representatives of older drivers are horrified by the talk of any such measures; and, indeed, what they see as an ageist agenda by society as a whole. They point out, for instance, that most road traffic accidents (RTAs) are caused by drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 years old (these drivers’ vehicles also fail their MOT test the most frequently). This demographic is 300% more likely to be the cause / victim of a fatal RTA than drivers of 20 years and upwards. The school run, which has become a fact of daily life in the UK in recent years, is responsible for a quarter of RTAs involving parents every year, and also injures about 1,100 children every month.
On the whole, the fact is that older drivers are safer than younger ones. The very lowest RTA rate involves motorists between 60 and 69 years old. Also, while drivers over 70 make up 8% of the driving public, they are involved in 4% of accidents. Teenagers, by comparison, account for 15% of drivers and 34% of vehicle based injuries. Against this background, older drivers see it as hugely unfair to target them as problem drivers who need government legislation to keep them in check.