18
Jul

Elderly Drivers: Is Your Parent Still Safe Behind The Wheel?

Hannah MacKechnie Read 1352 times

elderly driving when to stop

Audrey has been enjoying driving for 54 years. At age 79 she is certainly experienced behind a wheel and has seen a huge change in the volume of traffic since she took to the roads in 1964.  Her first car was an Austin 1100 in cherry red and she loved the freedom of jumping into the car to drive wherever and whenever she wanted – that feeling has never left her.

In her late-sixties, Audrey started having problems with her eyesight and put this down to natural ageing. In her mid-seventies, she was diagnosed with glaucoma but felt she could still see well enough to drive.

On a recent visit from her son James, she picked him up at the station in her Mini Clubman and drove him to her home. James was shocked and worried at how his mother pulled out in front of a car at a roundabout causing the car to emergency brake and flash his lights. When driving along the high street, James had to take the wheel to stop his mother from knocking a cyclist off his bike. Audrey simply hadn’t seen him, even in broad daylight.

When they got home, James realised he would have to confront his mother about her driving.


 

When is it time to stop driving?

Ageing is very different for every person. An eighty-year-old may be as active and mentally sharp as a person aged sixty. At seventy, a person can have significantly more driving experience than a thirty-year-old. For that reason, it’s not possible to set a definitive age when driving must cease.

Two attributes that are affected by age and which are essential to driving, are eyesight and reaction times. A person can lose 40% of their eyesight1 before they realise they have a problem and this is exacerbated in poor lighting. By age 75, a driver needs 32 times the brightness2 as they did at age 25. In a controlled test between middle-aged and elderly drivers3, the difference between reaction times increased dramatically between the groups, with elderly drivers needing more time to process complex information and to respond accordingly.

Although a driver between the age of 60-69 has half the crash rate of a driver aged 20-294, crashes that do involve older drivers are more likely to occur at junctions in what are considered ‘fail to look’ situations, due to an older driver having a reduced ability to judge the speed of oncoming vehicles.

There’s also a reality that since 1950, to 2014, there was a seven-fold increase in the amount of traffic on the roads5. Today, we experience a more challenging driving environment, with many more vehicles to negotiate on busy roads. For an older person, this may be beyond their cognitive capacity to judge speed, reaction times and to maintain focused concentration.

 


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Drivers are not just a danger to themselves

Aside from the danger to the person driving, a greater concern lies with their potential to hurt and accidently kill someone else.

In 2011, an 89-year-old man failed an eye test. Due to a loophole in the law, he was allowed to continue driving even though the police had tried to reason with him and had asked him to stop driving. Two days later, whilst driving, the man mounted the pavement and killed a young girl called Cassie.

After the accident, Cassie’s family campaigned for greater power to quickly revoke licences after failed eye tests and the resulting Cassie’s Law6 saw over 600 drivers have their licences revoked.

Nobody sets out on the road with the thought that they might harm another person because of a decline in their abilities. But, many people are in denial about their competence to operate a potentially lethal piece of machinery.

 

The legal requirements for older drivers

There isn’t a set legal age9 when a driving licence can be revoked but at the age of 70, a driver in the UK has to renew their licence and then every three years thereafter.

However, it’s the driver’s responsibility to report any changes in their circumstances to the DVLA. Also, any medical conditions which arise at any time must be reported to the DVLA.

There is a full list of all the medical conditions that you are required to inform the DVLA about on their website10. Some of the more common, age-related conditions include:

  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Fitted pacemaker
  • Dementia
  • Stroke
  • Insulin-treated diabetes

Medication, much like alcohol or any drug, can also affect driving efficiency through drowsiness and can seriously impact concentration and reaction times. Always discuss the effects of your medication with either your doctor or a pharmacist before getting behind a wheel.

Every older driver should be encouraged to undertake an annual check-up with their doctor, to ensure that they are still fit to drive and so that they can continue to get behind the wheel with confidence.

 

Questions to ask an older driver

The Older Drivers website7 from ROSPA is a comprehensive source of information for the older driver and we recommend reading their advice.

On the site, is a self-assessment checklist8 that a driver can review to help decide if it’s time that they accepted that they should stop driving. The checklist includes questions such as:

  • Do you find it difficult to change your visual focus when looking ahead in the distance and then close-up at the instrument displays on your dashboard, and back again?
  • Do you find it more difficult to turn your head to see over your shoulder than you used to?
  • Do you have trouble concentrating when driving?
  • Do you drive much more slowly than the speed limit, even when there is little traffic?
  • Do you have a medical condition that you must report to the DVLA?

If you have a parent that you suspect may be having difficulty driving, then the self-assessment is the ideal starting point for a discussion about the situation.


 

When James talked to his mother about her driving, she burst into an angry response because she believed he was trying to undermine her confidence but also, how dare he try to suggest she should get rid of her beloved car.

Audrey’s next door neighbour also confirmed James’s fears when she told him that she questioned if Audrey should still be driving.

In the end, James persuaded his mother to go to the doctor, and after an examination, Audrey was diagnosed as suffering from glaucoma and was told she had to stop driving. The doctor also wrote to the DVLA to inform them to revoke her licence.

James is relieved that his mother is neither no longer at risk or a danger to anyone else, but he feels guilty about taking her independence away. She was angry at him for several months after having her licence revoked but she has agreed to a home carer who will drive her wherever she needs to go.


 

How to talk to a parent about their driving

Confronting a parent about their behaviour can be a difficult task. The best way to approach it is with respect and understanding about what is important to them.

Driving represents independence and control. Take that away and suddenly your parent is confronted with the reality of growing older and many people find that incredibly difficult to accept.

Instead of taking a direct accusatory approach, lead into the conversation gently by pointing out a few examples such as  I notice that you find it difficult to turn your head. Does that cause a problem when you are driving, or, do you ever have difficulty with headlight glare from other cars?

A person does not always recognise a decline in themselves and may not realise just how much they have been struggling to manage driving. It could be an emotional realisation that they can no longer cope, so tread tactfully.

Lead into asking your parent questions from the self-assessment questionnaire11 and then perhaps recommend a refresher driving course12.

Suggest a health check with the doctor to make sure they are ‘tip-top’ and are safe to drive.

Help your parent to see that there are many alternatives to driving and that having a licence revoked does not mean that they no longer have the freedom to go where they want to.

Bus and train travel can be liberating and enjoyable. A local taxi service can be on hand anytime and a home care service can also drive your parent anywhere they need to go. You can also research to see if their local area offers a community or village bus scheme? These schemes offer a local minibus for older people to use and can be a great way to meet new people with similar interests.

By calculating the costs saved from not having to maintain a car, it could be a surprising bonus.

 

If your parent refuses to stop driving and you fear for their safety

Of course, not everyone is willing to surrender their independence and what their licence represents, so you may encounter refusal, hostility or even anger at suggesting such a thing.

Try to remove all emotion out of the equation by sticking to facts during conversations.

If you can’t reason with your parent, as a last resort, you can report a person as unfit to drive to the DVLA13 and they can take the matter out of your hands.

Remember that no matter how much your parent loves to drive or finds it difficult to relinquish their license, their safety and the safety of others is paramount.


Useful reading:

 

References:

  1. https://www.glaucoma.org/news/glaucoma-awareness-month.php
  2. http://www.brake.org.uk/facts-resources/15-facts/490-older-drivers
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940374/
  4. http://www.brake.org.uk/facts-resources/15-facts/490-older-drivers
  5. https://www.licencebureau.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/road-use-statistics.pdf
  6. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-33674219
  7. http://www.olderdrivers.org.uk/
  8. http://www.olderdrivers.org.uk/driver-assessment/self-assessment/
  9. http://www.olderdrivers.org.uk/the-law/
  10. https://www.gov.uk/health-conditions-and-driving
  11. http://www.olderdrivers.org.uk/driver-assessment/self-assessment/
  12. http://www.olderdrivers.org.uk/driver-assessment/refresher-driver-training/
  13. https://www.gov.uk/contact-the-dvla/y/driving-and-medical-issues