Older drivers have experience: the issue is health, not age

Older drivers are just as safe as younger people because driving skills are related to health not age, say University of Queensland (UQ) experts.

UQ Aging Mind Initiative co-director and clinical neuropsychologist Dr Nancy Pachana, a School of Psychology who specialises in elder driving safety, says decades of driving research shows older drivers are as safe as younger adults on the roads.

Her comments follow claims by NSW police head of traffic John hartley who says older drivers are putting themselves and others at risk.

“If older drivers are in good health then there is no reason why they should not drive up to and well beyond age 70,” Dr Pachana says.

She says that older drivers have years of driving experience which actually makes them safer on the road than younger people..

Likewise, Queensland Brain Institute researcher Dr Jaqueline Liddle, who researches the impact of retirement from driving, says age is not a good indicator of skill, rather it is health.

“Driving performance is more related to health rather than age, so there can be safe drivers at any age.”

Assistant Commissioner Hartley was reported as saying drivers older than 70 are more risk than young people of dying in an accident.

Prof Pachana concedes this is true, but not because older people are bad drivers.

“The NSW police are confusing the greater vulnerability to injury with driving skills.

“Older people have increasingly frail bones and are more susceptible to motor vehicle injuries, not just as drivers, but also as passengers and pedestrians.

“It’s ageist to state a person cannot drive just because of their age.”

In Queensland drivers older than 75 are required to have annual medical checks, and some areas drivers older than 85 must pass practical exams every 2 years.

Dr Liddle says most older people voluntarily stopped driving, often at some cost to their independence.

“There are also costs and risks for older people not driving, including increased risks of depression, isolation and poorer health outcomes.”

Dr Liddle says the UQDrive program is a great way to help people make the decision about driving as they age.It recommends:

  • Start to think about your options early: While are still driving, try out different transport options including public transport, transport services and lifts from family and friends. Have a long term plan for your transport needs.
  • Weigh it up: Take the time to think through all the factors involved in driving, and retiring from driving. Look into your priorities and values, and put plans into place. Think about the positives and negatives about retiring from driving.
  • Talk to key people: Talking about the situation to family, friends and health professionals might help you to consider all of your options.
  • Other ways: It is important to stay involved in the community. This can be done by using different transport options, and taking up new roles and activities.
  • Stay involved and active: Staying active after giving up driving is important. You should keep doing the things that are important to you. To keep up an active lifestyle, some people find they need to change their routines, and others move to areas with better transport options.

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