Driving isn’t the only means of transport, but it does give people a sense of independence. At some time in your life the ability to drive safely must be compared with a desire to have autonomy.
In the older generation, if you notice perception, judgement and physical ability becoming impaired, or their ability to drive has been affected by a health condition, there is a greater risk of being involved in a car accident and you might need to have ‘that talk’ about handing over the car keys for good.
In Australia, the licensing practices for older drivers vary. For example, in Queensland, drivers more than 75 years old are required to carry a medical certificate when driving, whereas Victoria does not have a compulsory driving test for those over a certain age.
A study by Monash University has said that instead of considering a person’s age as their ‘use by’ date for licensing the person’s own ability for driving safely without creating dangers for themselves or other road users should be a primary consideration.
The study also highlighted that in countries such as Belgium, France, Germany and Sweden older drivers are ‘licensed for life’, while in Denmark, Italy, and the UK older drivers must be regularly assessed.
When Rob Ward’s in-laws (aged in their early 80s) in the United Kingdom started experiencing dizziness and a loss of concentration behind the wheel, he and his wife felt it was time to discuss the issue of their driving with them.
“They [in-laws] were discussing some of their concerns in other areas of their lives with us and we used it as an opportunity to broach the subject of their driving,” he says, highlighting that travel over long distances was a common issue.
Ward says he spoke with them about the cost of owning and maintaining a vehicle and they agreed that given their age and the circumstances it was no longer worth it. They no longer drive.
But it’s not always easy, and it’s also not safe to assume that just because a person is older they are incapable of driving, as Megan Rawlings* explains.
“It wasn’t anything dramatic,” Rawlings says when discussing her mother-in-law’s driving ability.
She says when she broached the topic and suggested it might not be safe to drive anymore, her mother-in-law went to the doctor and was issued with a certificate. There was some compromise however, in that Rawlings bought her mother-in-law a more manageable car and the driving only occurs in the local area.
“Driving is about independence. The arbitrary removal of a license can have significant impact on an individual’s feelings of self worth, competence and independence. However, personal good versus public good is also a factor. Like any skill our personal assessment of how ‘good’ we actually are might not be accurate,” Rawlings says.
She says ‘capable’ and ‘confident’ should be assessed by the individual with support from others, which may also involve medical, would be a better option for all older drivers.
According to the Monash study, in the next 35 years you can expect an increasing number of drivers to be more than 65 years old.