Should older people be kicked off the road? And what is the law regarding seatbelts?
PUBLISHED: 19:30 21 January 2019
In light of the recent accident involving HRH Prince Philip, our columnist finds out exactly what the laws are relating to older people driving and says we shouldn’t write them off.
Our attention has lately been drawn to the Duke of Edinburgh who has been snapped not wearing a seat belt in recent days. There has also been a debate about older people driving.
So what’s going on here? Is older age in itself enough of a determining factor to stop people driving? And surely failure to wear a seat belt is an offence? The answers, respectively are no and yes, with exceptions.
Let’s first take the idea that old people should relinquish their licences at a certain age.
A press statement from Nick Lloyd, acting head of road safety for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) kicks this idea into touch... with provisos. He said the society was distressed to hear of the incident involving its former President, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, and two other people
“In the wake of the incident, we have inevitably heard calls for mandatory testing of people of a certain age. This is a red herring – age is a completely arbitrary and unreliable measure for assessing someone’s ability to drive. Statistically, older drivers have fewer accidents than other age groups.
“If we were to restrict drivers based on any relationship between age and accident rates, we would need to take a fresh look at inexperienced, younger drivers aged 17 to 24. Although this younger age group accounts for just seven per cent of the driving population, they are involved in around 22 per cent of fatal or serious road traffic incidents.
The statement goes on to say that the experience of driving gained over a lifetime helps people anticipate and cope with hazardous situations.
“Taking away someone’s ability to drive can have a major impact on their independence and should be very carefully considered because it could lead to an increase in the rising toll of loneliness and isolation that we are seeing amongst older people in our ageing society.”
“A balance needs to be struck between encouraging independence and protecting all road users. RoSPA therefore encourages older drivers and their families to be aware of their driving ability and other health conditions that could have an impact, and either speak to their doctor if they are worried, or take an assessment such as RoSPA’s experienced driver assessment, which will provide advice as to how to improve driving. More information can be found at www.olderdrivers.org.uk.”
When a driver reaches the age of 70 their licence expires and they have to apply for a new one. The individual is asked to declare any medical conditions they have and to confirm their eyesight meets the standard for driving. This is a legal document and it is an offence not to declare a condition or disability that might affect the ability to drive.
The advice is that: “It is a very good idea to have a medical check before renewing your licence when you reach 70 years of age, and again each time your licence is renewed.”
There may come a point when concerned family members may broach the subject of a parent’s driving and I have friends who have had to have “a conversation” with an older relative and persuade them to relinquish their licence. I also know people who have, of their own accord, made the decision to stop driving.
In July 2017, when it was revealed that the number of drivers over 90-years-old had exceeded 100,000 for the first time, BBC Radio Suffolk broadcaster Mark Murphy wrote of the day he told his dad he didn’t think he (his dad) was safe to carry on driving.
Mark wrote: “It took me months to pluck up the courage and, when I did, we both got terribly upset. His car meant the world to him. He’d been driving for decades and loved his cars. Here I was taking away the independence and freedom he’d enjoyed for years.”
“After our emotional discussion,and his eventual handing over of the keys, he would often ask me if we could go for a drive. I would ask him where he wanted me to take him, but what he really meant was that he wanted to get behind the wheel himself. He kept the car for six months before finally agreeing to sell it.”
Maybe we have to face the fact that there will come a point when an older person is no longer safe to drive. Maybe the checks at 70 and above should be more rigorous and not rely on self-certification?
In March 2018, there were 265 drivers aged over 100, according to the DVLA.
And then we come to seat belts. You are, according to the government, twice as likely to die in a crash if you’re not wearing a seat belt.
Today, the wearing of seat belts in vehicles is compulsory with certain general and specific exceptions.
In my 50s and 60s childhood, cars did not have seat belts at all. I recall a trip to Great Yarmouth in my Uncle John’s small family car when there were five of us in the back seat − my mum, me and my three cousins.
In view of this early dice with danger, it is maybe kismet that I went on to work for Volvo, the first car manufacturer to fit a three-point safety belt as standard. This was in 1959 on the model 122 (they were up to the 200 series by the time I worked there in the late 70s and early 80s).
It was not for another eight years that Britain required seat belt anchorage points to be fitted into the front of new cars with retrospective fitting for cars built after 1965.
But even then, it was not compulsory to wear them. It wasn’t until January 31, 1983, that drivers and front seat passengers had, by law, to wear seat belts. In 1987 rear seat belts were also required to be fitted in all new cars but it was another two years until the law required children to wear belts in the rear seats. In 1991, adults too had to wear them.
The law took some time to catch up with the sense that seat belts could be life-savers. You may recall, the 1970s “Clunk-click campaign” fronted on TV by Jimmy Savile (small cough, move swiftly on). Some graphic adverts showed the terrible consequences of failing to wear a belt.
You do not need to wear a seat belt (www.gov.uk) if you are:
• a driver who is reversing, or supervising a learner driver who is reversing
• in a vehicle being used for police, fire and rescue services
• a passenger in a trade vehicle and you’re investigating a fault
• driving a goods vehicle on deliveries that is travelling no more than 50 metres between stops
• a licensed taxi driver who is ‘plying for hire’ or carrying passengers
There are also medical exemptions, which require an assessment and a certificate from a medical practitioner.