97 and still driving?
A crash course in driving safely for the elderly.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
On the 17th of January, the elderly Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, drove into another car in his Range Rover while turning out of a junction. He hit the Kia, which held two women and a nine-month-old baby, causing minor injuries to those inside. The Duke was seconds away from hitting the side of the car where the child was, which would likely have been fatal. The police are viewing this merely as human error, which begs the question: is Prince Philip too old to be driving?
No matter how gracefully you grow old, there’s always going to be problems that arise: your eyesight, your hearing, your judgement, your reaction speed. There’s no doubt that most elderly people will lose at least one of the above over time, and all of those could have a serious impact on safety while driving. If your eyesight goes, can you see when potential dangers arise early enough? If your hearing goes, can you hear an ambulance coming?
If your reaction speed goes, can you respond in enough time to prevent a crash?
My cousin was driving through Aberdeen recently with her boyfriend when they witnessed a car turning out of a junction without looking, clipping another car and driving off. They followed to let the car know what they had done and before long the car pulled up next to a house and the driver, an elderly woman, got out. It’s evident she didn’t see the car, judged her timing badly and couldn’t hear when other drivers beeped at her in response. Thankfully this was just a minor scrap. When gently told about what she had done, she looked confused then angrily rejected that she could be driving less than safely.
And there lies the problem.
Many elderly drivers don’t realise they are driving dangerously.
In the UK at the end of September last year, 38.4 million vehicles were licensed to drive. With more cars on the roads than ever, there’s even more potential for crashes than ever before. That’s a lot of other drivers to contend with, and when you have an older driver who is stuck in their ways and lacks the awareness of what other drivers are doing, there could easily be a crash.
With so many drivers on the road, dangerous driving – or even just slower driving that can often be seen in elderly drivers – could lead to other road users acting recklessly out of impatience or frustration. At the end of the day, who is more dangerous? A newly passed driver who is knowledgeable of the current rules of the road and has fast reaction times, if inexperienced, or an older driver with slower reactions and poor judgement who has been driving for years? Are they equally dangerous? I think so. But only one is policed rigorously.
In 2016, the UK had 181,384 road accidents. Although there has been a gradual decline in accidents since the mid 60s, any measure that makes roads safer is better for everyone. I believe there should be more policing of safety measures for the older drivers in the same way there is for newer ones. Whether that be through insurance costs, a requirement for retesting past a certain age, or a legal requirement of black boxes in cars, there has to be something we can do.
I’m certain the majority of elderly drivers would protest to any and all of my suggestions, and view it as an insult against their driving. That would be a fair assumption, because I am insulting their driving as it puts other people at risk. The Duke of Edinburgh’s crash was nearly fatal and yet, the following day the Queen was seen in a car not wearing her seatbelt. How can we expect everyday citizens to follow safety precautions when driving if our elderly royals don’t? Besides, if older drivers are safer, surely we all benefit?
As a country we need to start taking serious action towards bettering our national road safety. And let’s start with policing the most vulnerable and unsafe groups. After all, the safety of all other drivers and passengers is at risk when dangerous drivers take to the road.