battle-of-the-agesOlder drivers do not make the roads more dangerous.  That’s official – it’s proven by research.  When it comes to driving, what the over 70s may lack in mental dexterity – that is, speed and agility, they make up for with experience and common sense.  They are far safer drivers than the group of men who are up to four times more likely to crash – the 17 – 21 year olds.  And drivers aged 17-19 only make up 1.5% of UK licence holders but are involved in 9% of fatal and serious crashes where they are the driver.

Dr Charles Musselwhite is Professor of Gerontology at the Centre for Innovative Ageing ( CIA) AT Swansea University and heads up research groups on environments and ageing.  Speaking at the British Science Festival last Wednesday (7-09-16) he said that the over 70s are far safer drivers than the current perception suggests.

The risk is much higher with younger drivers, says Brake, the Road Safety Charity, because of a combination of youth and inexperience .[i]   Their inexperience means they have less ability to spot hazards, and their youth means they are particularly likely to take risks. In this way, crash risk not only reduces over time with experience but also is higher for drivers who start driving at a younger age.

Because of the occasional well-publicised story about a senior driving the wrong way up motorways or slowing down traffic, there have been calls from younger drivers for stringent testing for the over 70s to make sure they are fit to drive.  But there has been no reduction in the number of accidents involving older people in countries that have introduced these tests.  Why aren’t there calls for more stringent testing for the younger groups who are shown to be more of a risk?

Dr Musselwhite said, ‘My research suggests that while people think older people are dangers on the road – they aren’t.  People also think testing old people will make the roads safe – it won’t.’[ii]

Furthermore, older people need to be able to drive because increased work force mobility means they are likely to live further from their families than previous generations – at a time when bus services are being cut and towns and shops are becoming more spread out.  Preventing seniors driving can damage their lives:  causing feelings of isolation and stress, leading to depression and health problems.

Seniors are also more at risk from simply being pedestrians, because the ‘infrastructure of the road is set up for younger people, with traffic lights at pedestrian crossings giving older people too little time to cross the road.’

Next time you see a story in the press about an older person making a driving mistake, email the facts to the editor, and suggest that he or she should publish a more balanced story.

[i] http://www.brake.org.uk/too-young-to-die/15-facts-a-resources/facts/488-young-drivers-the-hard-facts

[ii] I newspaper, 7-09-16

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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