In-car technology better at keeping older drivers safer on roads than mass retesting, study suggests

Callum Adams
There are concerns that some elderly people are continuing to drive when they are not fit to do so. Some families who have been bereaved as a result of mistakes made by older drivers have called for a change in the law - www.Alamy.com

The mass retesting of older drivers is less safe than simple in-car technology, a report has found.

A review of global research, commissioned by the RAC Foundation, found that it is difficult to devise a system of making older motorists prove they should still be behind the wheel.

However, basic in-car systems such as collision warnings, lane departure alerts and fatigue detection are recognised by older drivers as being helpful as long as they are easy to use.

Steve Gooding, Director at the RAC Foundation, said "it is so hard to devise a meaningful retest to be taken at what will always be an arbitrary age" because the elderly suffer conditions affecting their driving ability at different ages and to different degrees.

Once UK motorists reach 70 they must declare whether or not they are fit to drive every three years, without having to take a driving or medical examination.

There are currently 5.5 million driving licence holders in Britain aged 70 or over, up 41% compared with 2012.

There are concerns that some elderly people are continuing to drive when they are not fit to do so. Some families who have been bereaved as a result of mistakes made by older drivers have called for a change in the law.

In 2012 an 82-year-old motorist had hit and killed a woman after mounting the pavement when he mistook the accelerator for the brake. He had been travelling at 54 mph in a 20mph-zone.

The man was later sentenced for causing death by dangerous driving. The judge said that "an elderly driver who knows ... that he or she is losing his or her faculties is no less a danger than a drunked driver who knows the same".

Conversely, there are concerns that some elderly drivers may be giving up their cars too early and as a result risking exclusion from services and activities.

Caroline Abraham, Director of charity Age UK, said: “The ability to keep driving means a lot to many older people & anything that supports them in being able to do so, confident that they are doing so safely and well, would be very welcome."

In Japan, once drivers reach 70 they must pass competency and vision tests, and attend a driving lecture and discussion session.

However, the RAC Foundation report failed to identify "overwhelming support for the effectiveness of these measures in reducing at-fault collisions among older drivers".

The document suggested that in-car telematics systems could be used to highlight to older drivers their strengths and weaknesses.

This could help older motorists to self-regulate their driving - such as staying off the roads at night or in the rush hour - in recognition of their declining abilities. Researchers noted that warning signals should be easily identifiable and not create extra confusion or stress for drivers.

Mr Gooding said older drivers have "an enviable safety record" despite "sensational headlines".

He added: "This report has two key messages. One is that technology has a large role to play in keeping people safe and the other is that any information we can get which encourages and helps us make an informed decision about our ability to drive safely is to be welcomed.

"One practical measure we would back is a requirement to have a regular eyesight test, probably to coincide with the 10-year intervals at which people must renew their photocard driving licences and certainly at age 70 when motorists are currently required to self-certify their continued ability to drive."