senior woman driving car

I have to admit that I am not the most patient driver.  I like to drive in the most efficient way possible, prefer those around me to drive to the speed limit and not below it, and like it when as many cars as possible get through each set of lights – which is sometimes hindered by those who seem to amble along.  I shouldn’t always be in a rush, but somehow when I’m driving I always feel like time is of the essence. 

I have found quite a few times in the last week that people that I consider to be ‘bad drivers’ are very elderly men.  When I see they are very elderly I feel a niggle of guilt at my frustration and lack of patience, but nevertheless such drivers do sometimes cause quite dangerous situations for me, my two year old and my now ‘9 month old’ unborn baby. 

It made me think about what the roads might be like when they contain significantly more elderly drivers in the years to come.  In a major new series of papers published this week by The Lancet, researchers from the World Health Organisation have predicted that health systems and governments across the world need to urgently adjust to the massive boom in the ageing population to come.  Just last week an article appeared in The Telegraph discussing the need for elderly driving tests after a 93 years old killed a cyclist in Scotland due to a medical condition which made her periodically black out.  One has to feel very sorry for the poor lady.  The prosecution argued in submissions that drivers in their 80s should renew their licences and complete tests every two years and those in their 90s should renew each year. Currently in Great Britain once a motorist reaches 70 they need to renew their licence every three years.  It would be interesting to compare what the regulations are around the world.

Giving up driving takes away so much independence for an elderly person that it is no wonder many are very hesitant to give it up.  It is also a big blow to a person’s pride to admit that they are suddenly incapable of doing what they are have done quite competently for the last sixty or more years.  I have come across many situations where families have very much wanted a close family member to stop driving due to witnessed dangerous driving, but found it difficult to broach the topic without causing offence.  Common violations include failure to obey traffic signals, unsafe turns and passing, and failure to yield the right of way.

We often talk on this blog about how wonderful it is to see initiatives which involve the elderly more in communities and see them engaged in meaningful work for longer periods of time – being unable to drive makes all these things more difficult.  More testing would also almost certainly cause extra stress for elderly people.  To many it might even be viewed as just one more thing which takes away their dignity.  Still, all this has be balanced against lives, safety and the smooth running of our roads.  So what role should the State play in controlling when people should no longer be taking to the roads, and will many places around the world need to start to take steps to increase regulations and testing in the coming years given the increasing numbers of elderly people on our roads?

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...