Driving is an important part of most of our lives as it gives us independence and the freedom to get about as and when we need. Many people enjoy driving but it can become more difficult and stressful as we age.
If you are over 70 and want to keep driving, you’ll have to renew your driving licence every 3 years. You will be asked to answer a few questions and will probably need to provide a new photo. There is no medical or practical test and you will simply be asked to sign confirming you are safe to continue driving.
Ageing affects us all differently and there will always be young people who are more of a risk than someone in their 80s. According to statistics from the Association of British Insurers, drivers over 70 are half as likely to be involved in accidents as 18-20 year olds. Older people often choose to only drive short, familiar journeys or won’t drive if the weather is bad or when it is dark.
Your safety and the safety of others is the most important consideration when you decide whether to continue driving or not. If you have noticed your reactions are getting noticeably slower or you find driving increasingly stressful then it may be time to stop. Some medical conditions may affect your ability to drive safety. Maybe you have hearing loss or reduced flexibility which might impinge on your reaction times? Or do you get lost on roads you know well or find it difficult to judge speed and distance? If you are concerned go and see your GP and ask their advice.
If your eyesight is getting worse, or causing you difficulties, you should speak to your Optician as soon as possible and get an eye test. It takes over-50s eight times longer than a 16 year old to regain normal vision after being in bright light.
The DVLA has recently run an awareness campaign EYE 735T. The campaign reminds us that we need to be able to read a car number plate from 20 metres away. Your optician or optometrist can determine if your eyesight is adequate for driving. 20 metres is the length of 5 cars parked nose to tail. Having good eyesight is essential for driving safely so you should have regular eye tests.
Some of the medical conditions you must declare to DVLA are:
Diabetes (if treated with Insulin)
Any chronic neurological condition such as Multiple Sclerosis
Any condition that affects both eyes or total loss of sight in one eye
Other medical conditions might need to be declared depending on the type of licence you have and how the condition affects you. If you aren’t sure you should check with your GP or speak to the DVLA. There is a legal obligation to declare certain medical conditions to the DVLA. If you don’t and you have an accident your insurance may not cover you. It is also essential to tell your insurer about any medical conditions so they can make sure you have the correct cover if you continue driving. You may have to pay a higher premium but, if you don’t declare your condition, your policy could be invalidated.
Failure to inform the DVLA of one of the listed medical conditions will give you a £1,000 fine and possibly prosecution if you have an accident.
Only a GP, an optician or the Police can stop us from driving. Optician appointments aren’t a legal requirement and your GP might not mention driving. They may presume you have already stopped or it might not come up in conversation during your appointment. The Police only stop people when an incident has already occurred or someone is driving erratically. It may be too late by the time this happens. The best person to decide when it is time to stop driving is the driver themselves. Family and friends can often be best placed to monitor the driving of an elderly person.
If you believe a friend or family member shouldn’t be driving it is essential to raise the subject with them. Encourage them to think about whether they are putting themselves and others at risk when they drive. They might have been thinking about this already and might be relieved that you have broached the subject. You can then offer your support in finding them alternative ways to get about. The majority of elderly drivers self-regulate and realise for themselves when it is time to stop driving.
Anyone can inform the DVLA if they think someone is not fit to drive. The DVLA will then refer the driver to their Drivers Medical Group who will investigate and contact the driver’s GP. They will write to you before doing this and may ask you to attend a Mobility centre where the staff can assess your driving and look at what can be done to help you continue. If you ignore this letter your licence will be taken away for non-compliance.
There are many alternative ways to get around when you are elderly and no longer able to drive. You might be able to get lifts from family and friends or use the bus (with an Older Persons’ bus pass), train, coach, taxi, community transport, mobility scooter or, if you are able, you could walk if near enough.
Community Care Opticians provide FREE NHS Eye Tests at home for clients who have trouble getting to the High Street on their own. Find out more here http://www.communitycareopticians.co.uk or call our friendly team on 0203 418 8488.