It can be a hotly contested point but many people seem to think that elderly people are worse at driving than everyone else. Is this just an urban myth?
Research from the CIA suggests they’re certainly not as dangerous as we might think. (That’s CIA as in the Centre for Innovative Ageing (CIA) at Swansea University. Not, you know, the CIA.) They’ve been doing tests to try and find out whether older drivers are more unsafe on the road. Although as we get older, changes occur which might seem to make us more unsuitable for driving, their research suggests that older drivers don’t deserve their bad reputation.
The reaction time for an over 65 year old can be 22 times slower than someone under 30, while to recover from light glare can take 9 seconds for older people rather than 2. Despite this, Dr Charles Musselwhite, Associate Professor in Gerontology at the CIA, says that from 30 to 75 years old there is a fairly standard collision rate, and only a slight rise from 75 to 85 (although after this it does go up). He suggests that older drivers often compensate for these issues by adjusting the way they drive.
While older drivers seem more likely to be involved in certain types of accident, for instance, turning right across traffic at junctions, Dr Musselwhite suggests that they can make correct decisions but take longer about it; mistakes may be due to feeling under time pressure.
Philip Gomm from the RAC Foundation commented that “Older drivers often get a bad rap as they actually tend to be some of the safest people on the road… They often self-regulate and avoid situations where they feel uncomfortable such as driving during the rush hour, at night or on motorways.”
At the moment, drivers over 70 have to renew their license every 3 years and inform the DVLA that they are fit to drive. This is entirely based on their judgement and no tests are carried out to make sure that they are able to drive well. Although the idea of regularly testing older drivers may seem tempting, Dr Musselwhite points out that if you look at countries where stricter testing takes place, it doesn’t really reduce collisions. Testing eyesight can be helpful however.
Older people often suffer when they do give up driving, becoming more isolated. “Giving up driving is linked to increase in depression, health related problems and mortality. So there is something really important about driving in later life,” says Dr Musselwhite.
Let’s not deny that there are some elderly people determined to keep on driving when they are no longer capable (and it can be pretty terrifying!) and that there does come a time when driving is no longer advisable. But let’s not give older drivers a hard time either; their bad reputation seems for the most part to be undeserved.
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