How can we stay on the road when ageing is proven to reduce our reactions?
Older drivers – over 65 – have been on the roads usually for 40 or more years. This experience on the road is invaluable, and many have a ‘clean sheet’ to prove it. Driving offers independence to many older people and is much-relied upon for everyday to-ing and fro-ing.
Sadly, research has shown our reactions slow down considerably as we get older, and driving relies on hazard perception reaction times as we encounter the unexpected while on the road.
How old is too old to drive?
“My Dad is now 91 years old. A few years ago he insisted on driving everywhere but it was becoming evident that his reactions were slower. Dad became the 25mph road user with no spacial awareness. He renewed his license whenever it was due and ticked the boxes for a ‘clean bill of health’ even though he had dementia, high blood pressure, kidney problems, angina, cataracts, shattered knees and more besides! I told the DVLA but they didn’t seem to do anything. With a lot of persuasion and the fact that his ageing car failed its MOT, he finally relinquished his keys. It was a long hard slog though. To this day though he feels as if he let Mum down by not being able to take her out anymore.”
This is an example of how public transport and healthy streets – places where everyone feels safe and welcome – make a difference. If Dawn’s parent had access to both of these he might have relinquished his car before it conked out!
If we can improve community knowledge around public transport and road safety for all road users, perhaps we get to reconsider retiring from driving as a pleasurable thing to do – less stress, less expensive and one less thing to worry about.
Help us design better roads for walking and cycling when you complete this interactive survey:
Blackburn with Darwen Councillor Jackie Floyd switched to an electric bike last year to get out and about without her car: “I’ve loved it! Was I a bit worried? Yes, a bit, but while I hadn’t ridden a bike regularly for decades, it does come back quickly.
Yes, there are potholes, not as many as folk tell you there are going to be though! Riding around parked cars was easier than expected, with my lights on and the reflective coat, friends say I stood out well and gave plenty of warning. It would make it easier if there were formal shared spaces. When traffic is busier, I find cycling easier as the traffic is generally going slower. It’s easier to cycle away at the front of traffic when there are lots of other vehicles about.
I’ve been riding my bike rain or shine. It’s been relatively easy. Working from home, all Council meetings online and my litter picking curtailed to local walks. I have even met other people who cycle locally at the bike racks outside our big supermarkets. I still use a car shared with my husband that has a baby seat in the back to visit our grandchildren locally. To visit those further afield, I’ve switched to using a railcard. Enjoying the time to read and rest on the journey.
As a community we need to keep pushing ourselves to walk and cycle more, no matter the weather or time of year. My son has just sold his van and bought an e-bike with a cargo trailer (he’s an electrician) – proud mama moment. Give it a try, go on… you can do it.”
Being honest with yourself
As we get older nobody likes to dwell on eyesight failing and other physical limitations, but they are simply a fact of life for many. Everyone ages differently and there is no arbitrary cut-off for when someone should top driving. Consider your abilities;
- Has your vision decreased in the past year or two?
- How about your hearing?
- Do you experience slower motor reflex?
- Do you have a worsening health condition?
Ageing also tends to result in a reduction of strength, co-ordination and flexibility which can mean it’s hard to look over your shoulder, or perhaps a leg pain makes using the pedals difficult, or arm pain making steering less smooth.
The medical conditions you must declare to the DVLA as legal duty include:
- insulin-treated diabetes
- Parkinson’s disease
- a chronic neurological condition (such as multiple sclerosis)
- a condition that affects both eyes, or sight loss in one eye.
You might need to declare other health conditions, depending on your licence type and how the condition affects you. If you’re unsure, ask your doctor for advice. It’s understandable to feel reluctant to declare a health issue that could stop you from driving, but it’s more important that you and other drivers are safe on the roads.
“I was told I could keep driving, I just needed a few adaptations to my car.” Mary, 80
Things you can do to stay safe on the road
- Get your eyes & hearing tested regularly
- Exercise regularly to maintain physical strength
- Take advantage of free tyre checks at Halfords and Kwik Fit and be prepared for driving in winter weather.
Drive defensively – with smartphones, GPS and other devices, drivers are even more distracted than they used to be. This means you’ll want to take extra steps to drive safely by:
- Leaving adequate space for the car in front of you
- Paying extra attention at intersections
- Making sure you are driving consistent with the flow of traffic
- Avoiding distractions while driving, such as talking on the phone, texting, or consulting a map or GPS
- Allowing sufficient braking distance. Remember, if you double your speed—say from 30mph to 60mph—your braking distance does not become twice as long, it becomes four times as long, even more if the road is wet or icy.
Know your limitations
If a driving situation makes you uncomfortable, avoid it. Many of us voluntarily begin to make changes in our driving practices as we get older by:
- Driving only during daylight hours if seeing well at night is a problem
- Staying off motorways to avoid fast-moving traffic
- Not driving in bad weather
- Planning the route before leaving to feel more confident and avoid getting lost.
“I’m extra careful driving at night as the headlights on the new cars seem brighter than ever.” Frank, 70
Did you know that for medical appointments you can also contact the Patient Transport Service (PTS) – NWAS – North West Ambulance Service to see if you qualify for this service.
Listen to the concerns of others
If relatives, friends, or others express concerns about your driving, it may be time to take a hard, honest look at your driving ability. Have a comprehensive driving evaluation performed by an occupational therapist. Brush up on your driving skills by taking a refresher course. Talk to your doctor about your ability to drive safely.
“I’ve been driving for over 60 years but recently I’ve started to think about whether I’m safe to carry on – or if it’s worth the hassle.” Paul, 84
Even if you still feel safe behind the wheel, you’re required to renew your driving licence when you turn 70, and every three years after that. These renewals can be a good time to start thinking about whether you’re still able to drive safely.
‘Motability helped me work out what adaptations I’d need and met half the costs.’
Henry, 78, had his car adapted to help him continue driving.
“My daughters and granddaughter live quite far away, so it’s important for me to drive. And I rely on it in the winter. I can’t walk very far and I’m recovering from a couple of falls. I was sent to a physio who really helped me, and my GP said it was OK for me to carry on driving. I lease a car from the Motability Scheme. It’s been adapted with an automatic gear change and a hoist at the back so I can get my scooter in. Motability has really helped me – they supported me in working out what adaptations I’d need and met half the costs, and they cover my tax and insurance because of the benefits I receive. Because of my health, I don’t know if I’ll still be driving in a few years’ time. If my GP is worried about it, I’ll stop.”