GPS is great, but it can’t solve all our motoring problems. Elderly drivers can be the bane of the time pressed motorist and many drivers frequently report about their frustration rising at roundabouts, cursing at the cool cruiser, whilst fuming in the fast lane. The DVLA has recently confirmed that the number of drivers on UK roads over 80 has now topped one million for the first time. The information, released following a Freedom of Information request by the Institute of Advanced Motorists, shows that there are now some 1,012,399 octogenarian drivers, including 122 license holders over 100, alongside three 105 year olds and one lady of 106.
Given that the first driving test was introduced to the UK in 1934, many of these drivers may not even have sat for one. In fact, the minimum age for a driving license has been 17 since the 1903 Motor Cars Act. This also increased the maximum speed limit from 14mph to a blistering 20mph. The youngest of these centenarians may well have taken their first spin at a time when going faster than a bicycle resulted in imprisonment and a global positioning system consisted of a bit of magnetised metal stuck on the end of a pin.
Of course many drivers of all ages sometimes drive as if they have never taken a test. However, the UK’s stringent driving test includes a hazard perception, theory and practical assessments, and also includes questions on car maintenance.
Most significantly, the test has recently been bolstered by a range of more demanding independent thinking scenarios, where candidates are asked to navigate towards a destination no more than 10 minutes away using a set of memorised directions or road signs. The idea is to more closely emulate the real conditions of the road where a newly qualified driver has to cope with getting from A to B without the mental prompt of such easy to follow instructions as “turn left at the T junction”. This is to make our roads safer and ensure that the number of people killed in traffic accidents continues to fall.
However this does little to address the millions of UK drivers whose age or complacency means that they’re not as vigilant as they once were.
Most mature drivers are very aware of safety, care and consideration to their fellow road users. However, when it comes to road safety, the reality is that as we get older, our reaction times and reflexes slow and our ability to cope with new situations decreases.
Drivers over 70 have to reapply for their driving license every three years. This will invariably mean that many stretch the truth when it comes to providing an objective statement of health concerns. Yet, the alternative may not be so practical either. Faced with the cost of re-taking a driving test, along with the administrative burden, many good elderly drivers could easily be deterred from taking the test; they would then lose a much needed sense of independence. So perhaps it’s time we started to employ cutting edge technology. Several insurance companies are now offering reduced premiums to younger drivers if they agree to have a GPS powered black box installed. By monitoring factors such as speed, cornering and acceleration, the insurance bigwigs can calculate an individual risk factor over a period of time. Given that such technology already exists on the market, it would be quite simple to adapt this and deploy in a situation where it’s used to help gauge competency. It would spare good drivers of whatever age from taking expensive and meaningless tests, whilst ensuring the roads stay safe for the rest of us.
Let me hear your thoughts…