All the media furore and ensuing debate about older drivers following the Duke of Edinburgh’s recent decision to voluntarily hand in his driving licence at the aged of 97 - and the crash that preceded his decision - has struck a personal chord with me.
I’ve recently had to live without a car myself – just for a short while - and started to appreciate what the longer term implications might be. Regardless of age, it changes your life.
I’m relatively fit and capable of walking, running and using public transport to get about. I’m lucky to live in an area where public transport, while not brilliant, is significantly better than in some more rural areas. Even so, I’ve found myself more likely to put off going out, unless I could walk or until someone could give me a lift.
I’ve been frustrated at times that the little things I could jump in the car to get done have needed more patience - never a strong point for me! I’ve had to admit I’m less independent than I prefer to be, swallow my pride and ask for help. I’ve been more dependent than I’m used to on fitting around the priorities in other people’s lives, for getting the little things done which are important to me, but maybe less so to them.
I can see how, particularly for those living alone, this situation could lead to feelings of anxiety, frustration, social isolation and loneliness. Over time, we are becoming more and more aware of the implications these can have on our mental and physical health. They put a strain on us, which if prolonged can add to the strain on health and care providers, including family and friends.
We are a nation of car drivers. Our cars are a tangible representation of our ability to be independent, sociable, engaged and involved in our communities. I’ve heard this time and time again in the recent media debates and phone-ins about age and driving ability.
But whatever we wish for ourselves as we grow older, fate can deal us surprises, in the short or longer term. Whether we live into our 90s or not, we will all at some point have to face the reality of a conversation about whether we should be driving, even if we think we’re still capable and safe to do so.
At what is often a challenging and emotional time, we can all benefit from an objective, professional view. Sometimes that’s relatively easy to find, from a medical professional, for example. But when that’s not appropriate or sufficient to help with this important decision, it’s good to know that there are driver reviews which can provide an important, objective evidence base to help with making a tough decision.
Regardless of status and perceptions about the extent to which driving is a necessity or not – and there’s been a lot said about the extent to which Prince Phillip needs to drive himself around these days - the implications of agreeing to hang up your car keys is fraught with emotion and not just for the driver themselves. Family, friends and carers are all affected by the situation and the decision.
Older drivers are not intrinsically less safe than other drivers. Combined with many years of driving experience, they often reduce the risk to them and other road users by restricting how where and far they drive, at what time of day or weather conditions.
But we do have an aging population. Today, over a million licence holders are over the age of 80. And in the next 20 years the number of drivers over 70 will double. Age is not the defining factor – I’m still some considerable way off 70, let alone 80!
I hope my eagerly-resumed relationship with my car and advanced driving continues with only minor interruptions for many years to come. And I hope that when someone wants or needs to have ‘that conversation’ with me, because I can’t or am no longer safe to drive, I have the wisdom to seek – and listen to – an objective second opinion about whether or not the time has come to hang up my car keys for good.
By Kate Tonge, IAM RoadSmart director of marketing and communications