There has been an enormous amount of debate in recent years regarding the safety risks brought about by elderly drivers.
Victoria’s new top traffic cop, Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane, has outlined his plans to drastically reduce the states road toll, and part of that plan involves cracking down on unfit elderly drivers.
Mr Leane is asking doctors in Victoria to dob in elderly drivers who they suspect would be unable to safely operate a car.
While you may think that this suggestion would be a move to bolster an already existing system of governance, the reality in Victoria is, that drivers are currently responsible for assessing their own capability to drive and expected to report themselves if they feel they are unfit to drive.
This announcement comes on the heels of a spate of incidents this year involving elderly drivers, including a hit-and-run accident by a 93 year old driver last week that involved two trucks, and brought the Westgate Bridge traffic to a grinding halt for the day.
Tragic tales like that of an 86 year old driver from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast who accidentally ran over and killed a 6 year old girl in a shopping centre car park, have also added fuel to the fire of those questioning the safety of elderly drivers nation wide.
As Australia’s population continues to age, the debate regarding the safety of elderly drivers rages on. And states like Victoria and the Northern Territory who have very little protocol regarding elderly drivers, will continue to be at the forefront of these conversations.
What Are The Issues?
According to Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission, drivers over the age of 75 have a higher risk of being killed in a road accident collision that any other age group. This can be attributed to the natural deterioration of senses that allow for safe driving, as well as the frailty and vulnerability associated with old age.
There are a number of elderly drivers who choose to drive despite knowing that they are no longer able to drive as safely as they once did. This is a major risk to the safety of themselves and other road users.
As a person ages their physical abilities begin to diminish. This deterioration can result in losses of hearing, sight, and a delay in reaction time. All of which are vital attributes that are required to safely operate a vehicle.
Although not all individuals age in the same way. There are people who climb mountains and run triathlons in their 80’s, and there are others of the same age that are incapable of walking down their driveway.
This disparity is just as prominent on our roads, as there are many elderly drivers who drive safely and confidently on a daily basis, while there are other people of the same age who do not have the physical or mental ability to safely operate a vehicle.
This variance in individual ability makes it extremely difficult to create protocol that is universally fair to all senior citizens while also ensuring public safety.
Having the ability to drive plays in integral role in the well being of capable elderly Australians. For most people, driving is the hallmark of independence, so prematurely removing someone’s legal right to drive will also have a significant negative effect on their self worth and dignity.
Elderly Australians are more prone to the mental health issues brought upon by loneliness and isolation, than any other age group. Inhibiting their ability to drive can also enhance these hardships.
What Are The Laws?
In Victoria, you can continue driving, provided it is considered safe for you to do so. But if you develop any long-term or permanent physical or mental conditions that might affect your ability to operate a vehicle, you’re legally obliged to notify VicRoads.
From the age of 75 you need to complete a medical review every year, regardless of licence class. When you reach 85 you need to pass a practical driving assessment every second year to retain an unrestricted licence. You can get a modified licence without the practical driving test, but it will restrict you to certain conditions and areas.
Source: NSW Road and Maritime Services
Senior drivers in South Australia that don’t have medical conditions are sent an annual self-assessment once they hit the age of 75. You need to visit a doctor to complete the self-assessment and failing to do so will make your licence invalid.
Source: Government of South Australia
In Western Australia once you reach the age of 80 you’re required to undergo an annual medical assessment and complete the senior driver’s licence renewal declaration before you’re able to renew your driver’s licence.
Source: Department of Transport WA
While there are not aged based restrictions in the Northern Territory, drivers are legally required to disclose any medical conditions affecting their ability to drive.
Source: NT Government
Drivers aged 75 years and over in Tassie are now no longer required to undertaken an annual medical assessment but it’s strongly encouraged that they self-assess their driving ability. You’re also required to disclose any medical conditions.
Source: Department of State Growth Tasmania – Transport
AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY
Drivers in the ACT who are 75 and old must provide an annual medical certificate that confirms they are still medically fit to continue driving.
Source: Access Canberra
What Is The Answer?
This assortment of differing regulation can be a source of confusion for those looking to obey the laws and may also put elderly drivers at risk, as well as other road users.
As debate continues surrounding these regulations it’s imperative that elderly drivers take on the responsibility of realistically evaluating their own skills and feelings of capability on our roads, as opposed to relying on government policy to let them know if they are safe.
Capable senior drivers can reduce risks associated with driving by trying to avoid peak traffic conditions and times of the day with poor road visibility.
Senior drivers should also avoid driving after drinking or taking medication and have there eyes and hearing checked on a regular basis.
Elderly drivers should definitely not be stripped of their rights to drive if they are capable of driving in a safe manner, but in order to erase some of the risk associated with older drivers, perhaps it’s time that the country implemented uniform regulations across every state, based on the best available research.
Elderly drivers have just as much of a right to be on our roads as everyone else, but we must ensure the safety of them and everyone else on Australian roads.