Recent research by Roy Morgan has revealed that there are now more 80+ year old Australians driving cars than there are in the 18 to 24 age group.

In fact the number of those over 80 who are still actively driving has increased to 69% while the number in the younger age group is decreasing. This shift in road users may prompt some to think that this is a negative trend for road safety, but is it accurate to assume that older drivers are a greater risk to themselves and other road users?

The facts suggest otherwise
Making sweeping generalisations about any age group is fraught with danger. When it comes to the older age groups the truth is that there is no evidence to suggest that they represent a higher safety risk than any other segment of the driving population.

Elderly drivers tend not to be traffic-weavers, tailgaters or speed hoons, which are behaviours that some younger drivers are sometimes guilty of. Older drivers have the benefit of a lifetime of experience behind them too and usually drive more conservatively.

There is no evidence to suggest that elderly drivers represent a higher safety risk than other age groups

What’s more, modern cars tend to be a lot easier to drive and have greater safety features built in, which allows a greater number of older motorists to stay behind the wheel.

A focus on ability, not age
Rather than focus on an age group as a whole, the emphasis needs to be on assessment of faculties and fitness to drive. These are factors that apply to any age group – not just those in retirement.

While age may naturally result in a higher incidence in deterioration of some physical attributes, it doesn’t mean that all older Australians should be tarred with the same brush.

Regulators are recognising the reality
The evidence that older drivers do not pose a higher road safety risk is being recognised by state authorities, most of whom no longer have a requirement for mandatory driving tests based on age alone. In fact, New South Wales is the only state that still requires mandatory age based driving tests. The regulations in other states vary, but are based fundamentally on medical fitness and self-assessment.

Of course any kind of medical condition or physical impairment that may impede driving ability needs to be assessed by a doctor, so it is important for all age groups to be prepared to recognise if they do need to be checked.

Any medical condition that can be attributed to causing an accident may end up affecting insurance claims and the legal ramifications for the driver, so it is really not worth the risk of delaying or avoiding medical advice about your fitness to drive.

Tell-tale signs to be aware of
Being self-aware about your physical capabilities is something that should not be taken lightly. Apart from having regular medical check-ups, consider this checklist of 12 tell-tale signs that may indicate deterioration in your driving ability:

  1. Difficulty seeing road signs, markings, kerbs, medians
  2. Trouble seeing other vehicles, motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians
  3. Judging gaps in the traffic when merging
  4. A tendency for your mind to wander
  5. Feelings of anxiety in heavy traffic or at intersections
  6. Confusion about who has right of way
  7. Difficulty in maintaining correct consistent speeds (either too fast or too slow)
  8. Agitation of other motorists around you
  9. Slow reactions to sudden hazards
  10. Becoming easily tired while driving
  11. Comments by friends, family members or doctor about your suitability for driving
  12. Losing your way whilst driving on familiar routes

If any of these signs strike a chord with you then you should seek further advice from a health professional who will be able to recommend whether you should cease driving or limit driving to safer times, such as daytime only or when roads are quieter.

There are alternatives
If it turns out that you (or your parents) do need to limit or cease driving altogether, this doesn’t mean giving up freedom and independence. There are many alternatives that can generally take care of most of the trips you would normally make in the car yourself.

Public transport can be a cheap and easy way to get around

Public transport: depending on where you live, this can be a very economical and convenient way to get around.

Taxis: you may feel this is an extravagant way to travel, but think about it – if you are not paying for fuel, insurance, registration, repairs and tyres then taxis can be a viable alternative if you are selective about what trips you use them for. It’s even cheaper if you can share the ride with friends and split the cost. Consider using a service like Uber too, as this can often be cheaper than a taxi, if it is outside of peak usage periods.

Walking and cycling: It may be a limited way of getting around, but think about how many car trips are for short trips to local shops, friends and clubs. Leg power may replace many of these journeys and it is also a great way to keep fit.

Community transport: local organisations may have community transport services that use buses or cars for essential trips such as medical or hospital appointments. Local clubs and shopping centres often have shuttle buses. Start by investigating this with your local council to find out what is available in your area.

Motorised mobility devices: these are becoming quite sophisticated and are great for short distance travel if you (or a loved one) are not able to walk or cycle.

Is driving an issue for you or someone you love? Share your experiences below.