Older drivers should be spared prosecution for driving faults.
A government funded report recommends such reprieves for running red lights, driving too slowly or in the wrong motorway lane.

The Older Drivers Task Force says their driving should be assessed. Instead of facing legal penalties, an assessment and recommendations and driving tips would be more effective.

Safe behind the wheel

Fitness to Drive evaluations are currently only run by a handful of police forces, such as Hampshire Constabulary. Drivers’ abilities are assessed by specially qualified occupational therapists and driving instructors.

If a driver is found unfit to get behind the wheel, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) is notified. The agency can then consider whether or not to remove a driver’s licence. In some instances, drivers are referred for more lessons and offered a reassessment within three months.

Those offered an assessment should then avoid the usual £100 fine and three penalty points for these offences.

Taking a lead

The report highlights that rolling out Fitness to Drive assessments nationally would be a road safety benefit. It says the government should aim to halve the number of car crash deaths in over-70s by 2030.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Allowing older drivers to remain mobile is critical to their mental and physical wellbeing, but so is safety.

He goes on to say that this ” helps people address their shortcomings” rather than simply penalising them. Gooding also states that most older drivers are very safe and self-regulate their driving. This means they tend to avoid travelling at night or during rush hour, for example.

“Any encouragement we can all be given to reassess our ability to drive safely should be welcomed… throughout our driving lives.”

Seeing positive change

Other report recommendations include mandatory sight tests at licence renewals from the age of 70. There is also a call for a programme to make T junctions safer and research into the causes of ‘pedal confusion’.

The report states that older drivers do not pose a “significant risk” to other road users. However, their “relative frailty” means they are over-represented in serious crashes.

There are 5.7 million people in the UK aged 70 and over with a full driving licence, including 489 who are at least 100.  Annual car driver fatalities among the 70-79 age group are forecast to surge by 40% over the next 20 years due to the country’s ageing population.

A balancing act

The Task Force was led by the Road Safety Foundation (RSF) which published the report. Dr Suzy Charman, its executive director says: “We want to increase the pace of progress to ensure that we do not see the expected rise in the number of older drivers killed or seriously injured in road crashes.

She calls for the Department for Transport to provide the leadership necessary. “Not only will this make driving safer for older drivers, but it will also provide a legacy of safer roads for generations to come.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson says “Safety remains our top priority”.  They highlight the importance of striking the right balance between keeping the roads safe and maintaining people’s personal mobility into old age.

“We keep all measures under review and will consider the wider outcomes of this report.”