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7.0 The impact of an ageing population

Elderly SignThe average age of motorists is, along with the general population, increasing. It is estimated there will be 10.4 million people over the age of 65 in 2011 rising to 12.7 million in 2021. And the number of male drivers over 70 is expected to double over the next 20 years, with the number of female drivers to triple. For most older drivers, their car is vital to maintaining their independence. Once they are unable to drive, their ability to interact with the rest of society is put at risk, as they become more dependent on other people to give them lifts or else rely on an often inadequate public transport system. So what are older drivers thinking?

According to the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), some 30 years ago, only one in three men and one in 20 women aged over 70 held a driving licence. Today, three in four men and one in three women are licensed to drive in their 70s.

Caravan on bridge

7.1 Older Driver Views

In the main, drivers over the age of 70 have similar views to the rest of the driving population. However:

  • Ninety-six per cent believe they are law abiding drivers against 90% of all drivers.
  • Older drivers are less likely to be distracted while actually driving with no respondents admitting to using a mobile phone without a hands free kit, doing their hair or makeup while driving or texting against 8%, 3% and 6% respectively for all age groups.
  • Only 37% of older drivers support a complete ban on drink driving compared to 46% of all drivers and they are more inclined to keep the status quo on drink driving with 22% supporting 80mg against 14% of all drivers.
  • One third think the taxes paid are a fair price for motoring freedom, against 24% for all drivers.
  • Eighty-five per cent believe taxes should be directly related to how much a car is used against 66% of all drivers.
  • Eighty-seven per cent think advanced warning signs make the roads safer against 72% of all drivers.

7.2 Limitations to Change

Older drivers have much less flexibility to change their travelling behaviour. Only 32% have started walking more over the last 12 months against 43% of all drivers, and only 4% cycle more against 12% of all drivers. They have however started to use public transport more, with 32% of motorists over 70 claiming to have increased their use of public transport against 24% of the general driving population.

Age related stats

7.3 The Statistics

A recent IAM report, 'Older Drivers: Safe or Unsafe?' revealed that 8% of drivers are over 70, yet they are involved in around 4% of injury crashes. In contrast, the 15% of drivers in their teens and twenties are involved in 34% of injury crashes. RAC's research indicates that only two thirds of over 70s motorists drive every day - against 77% for all age groups, and two thirds drive less than 6,000 miles a year against 43% for all age groups.

It concluded that drivers under 70 are no more likely to be the cause of a crash than other drivers. But once over 70, they are more likely to be at fault, especially in right-of-way incidents. Also drivers over 85 are four times more likely to have caused a crash than to have been an innocent victim of one . The Association of British Insurers' statistics also reveal that the average cost of a claim by a 60-64 year-old is £1,170, while the average claim made by a driver aged 80 or over is almost 50% more expensive at £1,716.

7.4 Driver Confidence

Older drivers know their limitations more than any other group - hence the lower accident rate. Whereas road junctions, roundabouts and toll roads do not trouble the over 70s motorist, a quarter of this age group admitted to lacking confidence driving in wintry weather, and 14% weren't confident driving in poor road conditions. Arriving at their final destination is also a potential issue, with 18% lacking confidence driving to a place they don't know, and 14% unsure about using Sat Nav technology. Compared to all motorists, older drivers were twice as likely to lack confidence driving at night (16% compared to 8% for all age groups) and much more concerned about driving in rush hour traffic (12% against 5% for all age groups).

Age related stat

7.5 Physical Limitations

While there does not appear to be any particular age where driving ability begins to deteriorate, tests by the Transport Research Laboratory have shown that on average, drivers aged over 55 take 22% longer to react than drivers under 30. This would add two car lengths to the stopping distance if braking from 70mph. They also are more affected by glare when driving at night. According to the Department for Transport, recovery time from glare increases from two to nine seconds between the ages of 15 and 65.

RAC would welcome Government initiatives to help older drivers to drive safely as well as providing viable transport alternatives.

Age related stat

7.6 Older Drivers and their Fellow Motorists

69% of motorists agree drivers should face a compulsory medical check when they reach age 70 with regular checks thereafter. More than three in five think they should have driving evaluations at age 70 and thereafter, and 56% of motorists believe that drivers over 70 should be subject to both medical and driving assessments on a regular basis. But these figures mask an age divide. Between 72% and 77% of age groups under 64 years old think medical tests should be compulsory but only 54% of 65-69 year olds and 34% of over 70s agree. Similarly between 57% and 79% of motorists under 64 years old agree with driving evaluations, against 38% of 65-69 year olds and only 22% of over 70s. Support for both tests plummets from 72% to 20% as drivers' age and the prospect of taking these tests becomes more immediate. Older drivers however are happy to be tested as part of a programme to check all drivers provided they are not being singled out. Forty-four percent of over 70 year olds and 39% of 65-69 years think regular testing for all is a good idea. The measure receives even higher support from 25-44, as half of this age group would welcome regular testing for all drivers.

Motorists are split down the middle regarding a maximum age limit for driving. Restrictions on when and where older people can drive are even less popular. Fifty seven per cent of motorists disagree that older drivers should be limited to daylight hours and 61% are against restrictions stopping them driving on motorways at peak times.

Motorists over 70 years would like to see the following covered in a refresher driving course:

  • Everything in the standard driving test - 60%
  • Driving in winter weather - 51%
  • Driving at night - 45%
  • Parking - 44%
  • Motorways and dual carriageways - 43%
  • Manoeuvers - three point turn, hill start, reversing - 40%
  • Junctions - 40%
  • Learning how to use your car, Sat Nav, controls - 33%

A review is needed of compulsory regular medical testing and refresher courses for all motorists.

The Future

With an ageing society, the whole issue of older drivers will need to be re-evaluated. A car is a symbol of independence and a lifeline for many older people which must not be taken away without good cause. As people remain healthier and live longer is 70 the new 60 for motorists? The issues do need to be reviewed for both the sake of older drivers and anyone who shares the roads with them.

Robert Gifford, Executive Director, Parliamentary Advisory Panel for Transport Safety: "This is an increasingly important issue for society. We need a better understanding of the mobility needs and aspirations of our ageing population."

Under current rules motorists must get their driving licence renewed with a self-declaration of fitness to drive at the age of 70 . Depending on the information given in the self declaration, further information can be sought by the DVLA from the motorist's GP or a medical assessment may be required. The licence must then be renewed at the latest every three years depending on what conditions the motorist suffers from.

8.0 The economy and the motorist

6.0 The future of motoring