Discrimination of Older Drivers

Recent road crashes involving older drivers again prompts calls for introducing medical and driving tests. There has also been the suggestion that senior drivers should display an "S" plate to warn other motorists. 

None of these ideas has anything to do with road safety, it's just ageist discrimination. 

Even the statistics can be misleading.  The facts are that many fatalities of older road users  involve pedestrians and passengers. Lumping these together with older driver deaths distorts the picture.

Of course as we get older health issues will affect our performance in many activities including driving. But medical practitioners need to be vigilant to detect medical problems for drivers in all age groups, not just the elderly.  The facts are that older drivers are generally more cautious but if they are involved in a crash, some will be seriously injured or killed due to their frailty. In some cases their health issues will be the direct cause of their crash.

The problem is more about safe driving ability for all drivers regardless of age yet most drivers have not been assessed since licensing.

More important than focussing on age  is the issue of continual learning for drivers but only a few bother to refresh their knowledge and skill throughout their driving careers.  And that learning needs to involve drivers increasing their self-awareness and the effects of their aging and health problems on their driving. For example, eyesight is a crucial factor in driver safety. Many older drivers will claim they didn't see the other vehicle or object prior to colliding with it. Regular eye tests, at least every 2 years, are a must but equally a review of the older driver's vehicle ergonomics will often highlight their inability to maintain proper control.

Some older persons' postures means that they sit lower in their vehicle and don't have adequate vision of objects close to their vehicle. In addition their reach to the steering wheel and brake can hinder their ability to respond quickly in an emergency. Reactions, therefore, may be slower so they need to increase their following distances, but most have not been taught how to do this.

In fact most older drivers have not been coached about their driving since they obtained their licence many years ago. Vehicle technology, road rules and traffic patterns are all vastly different. A common problem for elderly drivers is effective steering. Many have difficulty maintaining their vehicle's correct position in lanes and when manoeuvring at slow speeds for parking and the like, their shuffling steering technique, which is a hangover from learning to drive in a vehicle without power steering, limits their ability to avoid bumps and scrapes.

The idea of continual learning for drivers is not well understood or accepted. Most drivers of all ages would not pass a road rule test without prior swatting and many have no idea of contemporary road craft techniques for crash avoidance. Murcotts have conducted a number of special programs for older drivers in an attempt to address this gap and it is clear that older drivers, like the wider population, have a belief that they are above average in ability. Having survived so long on the roads is no doubt part of the evidence they rely on for their positive self assessment but this can also be a factor in them failing to take on new advice. 

What we know is that unless there is lifelong learning associated with driving, breaking old driving bad habits and replacing them with contemporary safer driving techniques, will be challenging for driver trainers and coaches.

So suggesting older drivers have an "S" for "senior" is silly. It just doesn't address the problem.