Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Just testing

A man whose wife was knocked down and killed by an 82 year old motorist is demanding compulsory retesting of all drivers over 70 to avoid such tragedies. Having just renewed my licence at the age of 70, I'm of two minds about that.

On the one hand, there may be many older drivers who are unfit to drive and should have stopped. They falsify their medical and eyesight declarations (no supporting GP statement is needed), they ignore any signs that they might be a danger, and if others suggest they stop driving, they take no notice.

On the other hand, most older drivers are probably fit to drive, are habitually cautious and extra-careful because of their age, fill in the renewal forms honestly, and willingly stop driving if they feel they're becoming a menace.

To retest everyone over 70 at three year intervals (the standard renewal period for over 70s) would create a huge new administrative burden, plus a heavy expense for drivers having to take refresher driving lessons.

You could argue that the death of Desreen Brooks-Dutton was largely a freak accident not caused by older-driver incompetence but a combination of speeding (he was going at 54 mph in a 20 mph zone) and momentary pedal-confusion (he pressed the accelerator and not the brake).

You could also argue that younger drivers cause far more serious accidents than older drivers, through being reckless, over-confident, inexperienced, drunk, drugged or showing off, yet they aren't retested either.

I suppose on balance I would say, yes, drivers over 70 should be retested regularly, as they may be falsifying their applications, or simply not aware of their declining driving skills. According to one informal survey, nearly 70% of older drivers failed the eyesight requirements.

But it's only fair that younger drivers, who are potentially more dangerous and generally use their cars a lot more, should also be retested.


  1. Tricky one. As you say it's not necessarily age that makes us bad drivers. I would absolutely hate to have to do my test again!

  2. Unfortunately, this a fatality that's one in a long line of them.

    I would argue that at least a compulsory eye-test would be a good thing.

  3. I am a long way off the seventy years of age DEAD line.

    However (oh, don't I dread my beloved "however" always lurking in the wings)there are holes in your argument. Sure, you are right there will be oldies, youngies and anyone in between cheating on their forms. Trouble is that should an accident occur (whether through their own or another's fault) they will forfeit insurance. In other words: You will not only NOT be insured, the law will come down on you so heavy you wish you'd taken the bus or never set a foot out of the house.

    Neither can you compare young drivers with older drivers. There is a reason, my dear Nick, why insurance premiums for an under twenty five year old are EYE WATERING. So, yes, youngsters pose (in actuary terms) a higher risk yet, boy oh boy oh boy, don't they pay for it through their nose.

    To put it another way: If I were given a choice to be driven a hazardous route from A to B (in the middle of the night (add fog) by, say for sake of argument, my son or his father (the latter an "Italian" style driver if ever there was one) I'd go for my son any time. Eye sight sharp, reflexes fully in place, alert, fresh. There is no comparison. And I say this as one who has been assessed as a sterling driver myself. Not one accident to my name. Touch wood.

    I think, just like putting your car through an MOT in yearly intervals and getting it serviced every so many thousand miles etc etc, I think the (older) driver should be "inspected" too.

    Three point turn, and reverse parking greetings,

  4. Liz: Me too. I'd probably fail miserably just because I was so nervous!

    Rose: A compulsory eye test at the very least, considering so many older drivers have undeclared sight problems.

  5. Ursula: I hadn't thought about the insurance angle. I've never heard of any older drivers involved in accidents forfeiting their insurance cover, but I guess it could happen. My own insurance is very low, which must mean I'm seen as pretty safe.

    I'm glad your son is such an excellent driver, but there are plenty of younger drivers out there who're anything but. They seem to think they're immortal. So there's a strong case for retesting them as well.

    I've never had a serious accident in fifty years of driving, on and off. So to suggest I'm accident-prone because of my age would be a big insult.

  6. We are required to take an eye test every time we renew our driver's license, that includes peripheral vision. I think it's their way of catching older people who shouldn't be driving.

    My mom took my dad's car keys away a few years ago, but I think it's mostly because of his dementia and not because his reactions are slow or that he was a bad driver.

  7. We have to have an eye test whenever we renew. That part has nothing to do with age. But my last license was for only three years because of my age (before it was eight years), and Andy has to go in every year to get his eyes tested. It's a nuisance, but a reasonable check.

  8. Bijoux: We should probably have an eye test here, given so many older drivers have sight problems. My father never learnt to drive. My mother learnt in middle-age, and she was sensible enough to stop driving before she became a liability.

    Jean: As I said to Bijoux, an eye test should probably be compulsory here as well. My licence used to last ten years rather than eight.

  9. My thoughts are that if age does result in driving that's less safe it's because of physical degeneration rather than loss of skill. Reactions slow, and senses become blunted, so it would be more sensible to test these things, in a doctor's surgery, than to make people retake the driving test.

  10. You could argue all that, but what do the studies actually show. I found one article that stated, "According to a Carnegie Mellon University study, the fatality rate for drivers 85 and over is four times higher than it is for teenagers, who are usually pegged as our most reckless drivers." Apparently the problem is two-fold - older drivers have poorer vision and slower reflexes, and they are also considerably more fragile.

    But in the US, we take an eye exam every time we renew our licenses, regardless of the age. I don't know that testing driving ability is such a bad idea, either. There is a computerized driving simulation test people can take that assess ability to drive - that might be the easiest way.

  11. I think every age group has issues with driving, and it's not as clear cut as a simple 70 year-old boundary.
    Young drivers are often tarred with the 'fearless hooligan' brush, and in some cases deservedly so, but if you look around carefully you'll see far more of them driving sensibly.
    An old fart doddering along at 40mph in a 60 limit, peering through the steering wheel is a huge hazard, but you also see people in their seventies and beyond exhibiting perfectly good technique.
    And in the gulf between these two we have white van man, taxi drivers, people texting, women playing with their hair and checking their makeup in the mirror, lorries racing on the dual carriageway, tailgaters, drunks, and those who live their lives stressed out and angry.
    Age isn't a reliable indicator of driving ability - bad drivers are all around us and of all ages. Luckily, most people don't fall into this category, otherwise I'd hate to see the accident statistics.
    Perhaps some form of driving assessment should be mandatory every, say, ten years? A sort of watered-down form of the driving test which you either pass and happily go on your way, or fail and have to undergo additional tuition.
    Just an idea.

  12. Eryl: That's a good distinction between physical decline and loss of skill. A general physical assessment by a GP sounds sensible.

    Agent: Yes, I can believe the over 85s have a high accident rate. I think the studies I've seen tend to be for over 60s or over 65s which would include a lot of perfectly safe drivers. A driving simulation test is a good idea as well. I tried a simulated test when I was younger - and was told I was a terrible driver!

  13. Dave: Agreed, anyone can be a danger at any age if they're not concentrating on the road and are busy texting or applying make-up or whatever. The people who alarm me are the ones who nip in front of me without any warning. Sooner or later they must get dramatically rear-ended. And yes, dawdling oldies are a pain in the butt!

    A test every ten years would be easier to manage, but how many oldies would become unsafe in the meantime? Quite a few, I imagine.

  14. Why worry all the time about what can happen, may happen . Life is risk and we will all die one day, so let us stop to torture our brain. There are probably much more young crazy drivers than old ones, and all depends very often to find oneself in the wrong place , in the wrong moment, so really let us take life in a more philosophical way.
    Mia More

  15. Mia: I certainly agree it's pointless to worry too much about what might or might not happen. But if there's a significant number of older drivers out there who really shouldn't be driving because they're past it, then it seems sensible to try and weed them out before they kill someone.

  16. I am older than you by four years and have to agree with you. Most drivers on the road today were not born when I first got my driving licence and I am appalled at their way of driving. Though I hold a valid driving licence, I have more or less stopped driving myself and use cabs or professional drivers for hire on call here. Much better way to avoid tension and road rage!

  17. Ramana: Some drivers are totally reckless about cutting in front of me, overtaking and not using their indicators. It's a wonder they haven't had any major accidents - or maybe they have.

  18. Impossible to police drivers as no particular generation is worse than others. Daughter is a very slow cautious driver as is my youngest friend whereas I'm fast. Stereotyping doesn't achieve stats based on reality. Doctors here report on a any kind of driving handicap, no matter the age.


  19. www: Interesting that you know young drivers who are slow and cautious. That requirement to report any driving handicap is very stringent, but maybe that's what's needed. My only reservation is that if loads of older drivers are prevented from driving, there's a need for much better public transport as an alternative. At the moment public transport anywhere outside major cities is generally rubbish.

  20. When my husband first applied for a driving licence in Costa Rica he was obliged to go for a medical. Boxes were ticked and the doctor asked him to read his university degree certificate which hung on the wall. He got as far as the first line 'UNIVERSITY OF COSTA RICA' and was passed fit. Luckily, he was, but gave up some years later when growing paralysis made it unsafe for him to drive.
    I'm all for eye tests from fifty onwards...it won't catch the bad drivers but will catch those who aren't aware that their sight isn't what it was.

  21. Helen: I think I could have passed that eye test pretty easily as well! Regular eye tests are probably a good idea, seeing as so many older drivers seem to have undeclared sight problems.