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Road sense

04 June 2015

The decision to stop driving can be a difficult one for the elderly.

When should you, or someone close to you, give up driving? Failing eyesight and the onset of dementia are two reasons to think very seriously about it, but persuading older drivers to relinquish the wheel is not always easy.

More than four million people over 70 now hold driving licenses, according to a survey for the RAC Foundation. Nearly 200 people over the age of 100 were still licensed to drive at the time of the survey, the oldest being a 107-year-old woman.

Old age itself should not necessarily put paid to one’s motoring career. But once drivers reach 70, they must declare every three years whether or not they are fit to drive. The decision can be ticklish.

There is talk of compulsory re-testing and/or medical checks when drivers reach a certain age. The RAC Foundation rejects these calls. But it does say that older drivers have a responsibility to be honest with themselves if growing incapacity poses a risk to themselves and others.

‘Independence’

There’s the rub. Many of us have known someone, perhaps a family member, determined to keep driving – holding on to their ‘independence’ – long after they should have stopped. At the same time, many more stop driving because they are worried when, with a little help and advice, they could continue.

The RAC survey was conducted by the Research Institute for Consumer Affairs (Rica), which has produced a helpful guide for older drivers, with advice for those who choose to keep driving and alternatives for those who don’t.

The fact is that it’s the driver’s responsibility to make sure they are driving within their capabilities and that they comply with the requirements of the Highway Code. They must also ensure that their car is safe to drive and appropriate for their needs.

It may be possible to keep driving by making certain adjustments; for example, by avoiding driving in difficult conditions or allowing more time for the journey. Elderly drivers might also benefit from having a newer, smaller car which is more likely to have useful features like power steering, automatic headlights and wipers, and parking sensors.

Driving diagnosis

If dementia, or some other condition that could affect driving ability, is diagnosed, two things should be done. The first is to tell the DVLA. The DVLA will speak to the individual’s GP and judge their fitness to drive based on that information, and may ask for a medical exam or driving assessment. They will not necessarily refuse a licence; they may allow the individual to keep a full licence, or grant a temporary one for between one and three years, or issue a licence to drive a car with special controls.

The second requirement is to inform the insurers of the vehicle, otherwise the policy may be invalid and may not provide cover. It is a criminal offence to drive a vehicle without at least third party cover.

Helping hand

Losing the ability to drive can mean a major change in lifestyle, and anyone concerned will benefit greatly from the support and encouragement of family, friends and carers. But there are alternatives – shopping and banking online, for example, or using public transport.

Taxis and minicabs can give a degree of independence, and aren’t necessarily unaffordable luxuries. With today’s costs of owning and running a car, it may be quite a lot cheaper to get rid of it and just use these services instead. Some councils operate a taxi card scheme that makes it much cheaper to use local cabs.

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