Neil Greig - IAM RoadSmart Policy and Research Director
As we all know 4th of July is Independence Day and this year, in London, it was marked by the launch of a report which should help guarantee better mobility and independence for older drivers in the future. The key official crash statistics show that the risk of older drivers hurting others in serious crashes is lower than middle-aged drivers and half that of young drivers.
Whether we like it or not a huge increase in the numbers of older drivers on our roads is coming. In 2014 there were 4.7 million drivers over 70, by 2035 that number will be 8.5 million. How we help them stay safe and mobile is a crucial question for our society and one this report set out to answer.
On behalf of IAM RoadSmart I have been involved in the development of the Older Driver Task Force report “Supporting Safe Driving into Old Age” for over two years now. You can view the report here.
The headline recommendation has been the idea of increasing the age of licence renewal to 75 but making an eyesight test certificate part of the process. This will be a welcome additional safeguard with which most drivers can easily comply. Other best practice ideas from around the world include designing roads to make it easier for older drivers to cope and designing cars that help protect the frail elderly in a crash. An airbag designed around a young six foot tall crash test dummy can do a lot of damage to an old lady with osteoporosis!
Other parts of the world are well ahead of us in their openness about talking and planning for driving in old age, although it has to be said few match our record of safety on the road. A good example would be the USA where driving assessments, retirement planning and the difficult discussion about giving up are handled well. But, their reliance on the car and their attitude to safety equipment such as seatbelts does let them down in the final analysis!
The role of the medical profession in providing advice, information and signposting to assessment courses is critical in our view. We need to equip doctors, nurses and carers with the skills, and the time, to recognise the mobility needs of those consulting them and to signpost solutions to them.
The reports also states that “Driver appraisal schemes hold enormous promise for the future. Unthreatening, voluntary courses run by trusted organisations have the potential to become a new (and enjoyable) social norm”. IAM RoadSmart was particularly involved in this aspect and we also support the suggestion that Dft lead new research to evaluate schemes such as our Mature Driver Assessment to ensure they are effective. We have now delivered almost 2000 with most respondents finding them a very positive and rewarding experience. As insurance premiums rise it is even more important that older drivers have access to assessments and training that can allow them to prove they are a lower risk.
Older drivers get an undeserved bad press whenever they are involved in incidents. This report is hopefully the first step towards setting the record straight and recognising them for the opportunities they present as well as dealing with the challenges. At IAM RoadSmart we look forward to working with our partners government, NHS, police, car makers, road engineers and the insurance industry to deliver the reports excellent recommendations.