Are older drivers a danger to others?

Radio National had a fascinating talk-back session yesterday on older drivers (audio download here; no transcript). This is a pressing issue because of the ageing of the Australian population – by around 2040 a quarter of the population is projected to be aged over 65 years.

However the good news is that elderly drivers, including those over 85, are just as safe as other age cohorts. In fact in Victoria there is no compulsory age-related retesting of drivers for this reason.  It seems older drivers actively self-regulate as they feel their capability diminish – they drive less, drive shorter trips, driver slower and in particular avoid driving at night or in wet conditions.

They also tend to give up voluntarily when they no longer feel comfortable driving, rather than be forced off the road by doctor’s orders or, in some States, by compulsory testing. Being able to continue driving is very important for older drivers. For one thing it seems they are more at risk as pedestrians than as drivers. For another, rates of depression are higher for older persons who can no longer drive.

Yet the program indicated the good performance of older drivers is despite some having disabilities that would disqualify them from driving if detected by the licensing authorities. One study found that 17% have inadequate vision for driving and 7% have early stage dementia. Diagnosis of dementia is especially important because some drivers will not or cannot acknowledge their disability.

An issue that struck me is the plight of widows. There are many women whose late husbands did all the driving during their marriage. They have to develop the skills and confidence for more extensive driving at an advanced age. Some have never previously learned to drive.

A key recommendation for older drivers is to drive a vehicle that has high levels of both active and passive safety. Elderly people should also think about living in a location where they can access destinations without a car should they no longer be able to drive.

(Photo by Bruce Dickson)


4 Comments on “Are older drivers a danger to others?”

  1. TomD says:

    Another interesting and enlightening piece. Most likely challenges a few potentially unhelpful stereotypes! Facts surpassing perceptions yet again! Well done Alan.

  2. lock says:

    Yes, older drivers are definitely less likely to be involved in an accident. However the figures don’t look so great on a per km travelled basis (http://www.monash.edu.au/muarc/reports/muarc118.pdf pg6).

    I’d like to see active safety systems be developed with the elderly in mind. It’s unlikely that an elderly driver would wish to make use of the acceleration capabilities todays vehicle have. Active braking systems (as seen on a few volvos/mercs) and traction control would no doubt also reduce accidents.

    The thing I find most concerning is their over representation in pedestrian casualties. It just feels like they are being “punished” for making good transport decisions.

    • Alan Davies says:

      Very relevant point. Actually I’m surprised the TAC rep on the Life Matters program didn’t mention those numbers. The Monash Report you cite shows drivers aged 65+ are more likely, on a per km basis, to be involved in a fatal or serious injury accident than any other age groups except the high-risk 17-24 years group.

      That seems to largely reflect their greater frailty because they only have only a slightly higher risk of accidents involving a minor injury than other age cohorts excepting, again, the youth cohort (who have almost four times the risk of the rest).

      I think its plausible that older drivers would also tend to have older cars with less effective active and passive safety systems than newer cars.

  3. Andrew(AJH) says:

    Another interesting observation I made to my wife today was that most of the courteous drivers on the road these days, ie those who let you into a stream of traffic etc, seem to be older generation drivers (40+?).


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