As it currently stands, there is no maximum age limit for driving in the UK. Whether you’re 17 or 78, as long as you hold a valid driving licence, you can get behind the wheel and hit the road.
If you’ve picked up a newspaper or scrolled through X(Formerly known as Twitter)’s trending topics in the last decade, though, you’ll know that this fact doesn’t sit right with everyone. No siree! Old people and driving eligibility is a hotly debated topic. Join us as we break down the arguments for and against!
The current rules
Before we launch into if there should be a cut-off age for driving, let’s quickly cover what restrictions (if any) are in place right now.
There is some acknowledgement from the DVSA that age may play a factor in driving ability. Once you reach the age of 70, you must reapply for your driving licence every 3 years. For drivers under 70, this is only necessary every 10 years.
“Well, there you go then!”, you may be thinking, “case closed!”. Not so fast. The reapplication process does not involve retaking the test. In other words, there is no actual proof required that the person filling out the application form is still a competent driver. It simply involves updating your personal details, confirming that you meet eyesight standards and declaring any medical conditions.
As a result, the possibility remains that people whose driving standards have significantly declined with age are still having their licences renewed.
The main arguments
Discussions around restricting older people from driving cover a lot of ground. For the sake of keeping things concise, we’re going to touch on some of the main (and most convincing) arguments put forward by both sides.
That being said, let’s get stuck in…
FOR: Overall health deteriorates with age, affecting vital skills required for driving like eyesight, reaction times and mobility.
It’s an undisputed fact that our bodies start to deteriorate in old age. It might not hit everyone at the exact same time, but at some point, your joints will get stiffer, your eyesight will begin to decline and your reaction times will slow down. What fun!
Depending on the severity of the changes, this won’t necessarily make you a bad driver. It certainly won’t help, though! Indeed, the reason a hazard perception section is included on the theory test is because being able to spot and respond to potential danger on the road is a vital skill. If your ability to do this becomes compromised, you are putting yourself and other road users at risk.
Factors like poor eyesight and slow reaction times increase the potential for accidents, and this is particularly bad news for older people. Statistics have shown that when crashes occur, the likelihood that people over 60 will die is more than double that of younger people. This is largely down to the fact that their bodies are more fragile and it takes them longer to recover from injuries. So, having a cut-off age for driving might help protect everyone who uses the road.
AGAINST: Younger drivers are involved in more accidents and are more likely to be caught speeding or driving under the influence.
For every shocking driving tale there is about an old woman driving 16 miles without noticing her car was missing a tyre (true story), there are 10 more about dangerous driving at the hands of young people. This explains why younger drivers pay higher insurance premiums.
It’s no surprise, then, that plenty of older drivers find it a bit rich that it’s often their driving that is under scrutiny. Figures released by the Older Drivers Task Force revealed that, in 2012, of the 447 pedestrians killed by cars on Britain’s roads, only 7% of the drivers involved were over the age of 70. After analysing the wider data, they concluded that, “The risks posed by those aged under 40, and especially under 25, are much higher.”
While this is certainly a fair point, statistics can be misleading. It’s important to keep in mind that older drivers also spend less time on the road, so it’s somewhat inevitable that they’ll be involved in fewer accidents.
FOR: It’s not safe to rely on the notion that older drivers will eventually voluntarily give up their licences.
As we’ve explained, the current law largely relies on people taking personal responsibility for deciding if they are still fit to drive. The obvious problem with this is that people might not know that their driving is no longer up to scratch until it is too late!
It looks like the General Medical Council are aware of the potential flaws in this system, because in 2016 they released new guidance on how doctors should approach the issue. GPs are still advised to remind patients that it is their duty to alert the relevant authorities about any medical conditions they have that could impact their driving. In addition, though, doctors are now encouraged to, “make a decision about whether to disclose relevant information without consent to the DVLA […] in the public interest if a patient is unfit to drive but continues to do so.”
Even for this extra check to make a difference, it requires that a person pays a visit to their doctor. We all know that it is not uncommon for people of all ages to put off such things! So, does the current system really ensure that the DVLA is informed about notable medical changes? We’re not totally convinced.
AGAINST: The ability to drive is a lifeline for many old people.
When we talk about stripping old people of their driving licence, we could be threatening taking away a vital lifeline. The ability to drive allows people of a certain age to stay mobile and retain a very important sense of independence and freedom. This is why the issue must be treated with care.
Imposing blanket bans could result in discrimination against individuals who are still perfectly capable of driving to a high standard. Everyone’s abilities are the result of a complex combination of genetics and lifestyle factors. This means that not all, say, 75-year-olds will have the same mental and physical capabilities—including when it comes to driving. So, how would you even begin to come up with a number that marks the maximum driving age?
Funny you should ask…
How would a cut-off age work?
Is there a more efficient (but fair) solution than the one currently in place in the UK? We cast our eyes around the globe to see if any other countries had measures in place to restrict older residents from driving.
In Japan, for example, drivers over the age of 75 must renew their licence every 3 years—a process which involves passing a cognitive test. There have also been proposals to limit older drivers to using cars fitted with advanced automatic braking systems.
Introducing more tests, rather than applying a specific age ban, could be the key here. Even the Older Drivers Task Force are not against this approach. While they argue that 70 is too young to have to start declaring medical conditions every 3 years, they do suggest that actual evidence of an eyesight test should be part of the licence renewal process. Establishing eyesight standards is still currently based on—you guessed it!—self-notification.
A cut-off age for driving: The verdict
OK, so we’re likely to get a few splinters in our butt from sitting on the fence, but it’s undeniable that both sides of the argument raise valid points. The most important thing to acknowledge is that getting older affects everyone differently. As a result, it would probably be unfair to use a specific age as a hard cut-off point for driving.
What might work better is some kind of test that people over a certain age are required to pass before being approved for a new licence. How that test would work is up to the DVSA, but there are a couple of ideas in this article that they could swipe!
Reached a mature age and concerned that your ability to drive is not as good as it once was? Our advice is to err on the side of caution. Refrain from taking the wheel for the time being and have a chat with your GP. You’re probably good to go, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry!