Re-test fears for older drivers
Pensioners' groups have warned against mandatory re-testing of older motorists saying it could lead to greater "isolation" of the elderly.
A report by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety said a national strategy for an ageing car-driving population was vital, given the significant rise in the number of older motorists now holding driving licences.
The Whitehall advisory body urged a review of the current self-declaration system for the over 70s, raising the spectre of a stricter new system and possible mandatory re-testing.
But pensioners' groups said such moves were unnecessary and not supported by evidence. Bob Drabwell, chairman of Cornwall Senior Citizens' Forum, said: "I can't see there's a need for new legislation beyond what we already have.
"There are enough laws and legislation already and we don't need to pile it on any further.
"If people do get too old and doddery then I think they recognise that fact and pack up.
"By and large older people are pretty careful drivers and they have plenty of experience behind the wheel.
"It is not older people who are speeding around, it tends to be the younger drivers who seem to have a point to prove."
Mr Drabwell, 77, who lives at Pool, near Redruth, said many older people were giving up their cars because of the cost of motoring but that forcing people out of their cars in rural areas like the Westcountry could leave people more vulnerable.
"The transport system is slowly getting worse and worse," he added. "Many older people rely on their cars. We need to make life easier for elderly people, not harder. We don't want to drive people into isolation."
Drivers over the age of 70 currently have to fill in the self-declaration section of the licence renewal form every three years.
But the PACTS report said the "effectiveness of self-regulation should be the subject of a study, assessing the link between self-regulation and crash risk". It said: "Self-regulation should not be relied upon as a method to ensure older drivers are safer until there is sufficient research that will allow the provision of evidence-led guidance and information.
"If during the assessment stage ability is found to be deficient, it could be improved through training, both in class and on the road."
Albert Venison, the president of the Devon Pensioners Action Forum, said he had stopped driving full-time two years ago on health grounds.
"We don't need a mandatory system," the 86-year-old said. "There are lots of elderly people who are quite capable of driving. The onus is on the person concerned to make their own mind up if they carry on or not."
He warned that additional restrictions would only "create jobs for the boys" while many able drivers would give up their cars early rather than face the bureaucracy.
The PACTS report highlighted the increase in the number of older drivers saying that while 15% of over 70s held a driving licence in 1975, the figure for 2010 was nearly 60%. Also, 80% of current 60-69-year-olds hold licences and will continue to drive for around the next 20 years. More than 80% of 30-39-year-olds are licence holders and will drive until at least 2050.
It said: "The report therefore concludes that older road users are here to stay and that a national strategy for an ageing population is vital."
It also outlined how reductions in the number of people killed or seriously injured on the roads have fallen far more slowly among older drivers.
The car-occupant death and serious injury reduction for all ages between 2000 and 2010 was 54%. But the fall for 60-69-year-old car occupants was only 44%, with the decline for those aged 80 or over was only 16%.
The report also drew the distinction between road users who were at risk and who posed a risk to others. Older road users tended to be in the former group.
It was therefore essential, the report added, that planning decisions were "health-checked" for older people and that the medical profession was more effective in giving advice on both physical and mental fitness to drive.
PACTS executive director Robert Gifford said: "Over the next decade the balance of the population in this country will change. Older people need to be kept mobile and safe.
"I hope that this report will generate a national discussion about the state of our pavements and the relevance of self-regulation when it comes to giving up your driving licence.
"We need to move beyond seeing older people as a problem to viewing them as contributing to a mixed society."