7 January 2016

University of Queensland ageing experts have rejected calls for all older drivers to relinquish their licences.

UQ Aging Mind Initiative co-director and clinical neuropsychologist Dr Nancy Pachana, a School of Psychology Professor who specialises in elder driving safety, said decades of driving research had found that older drivers were just as safe as younger adults on the roads.

Her comments follow media reports that New South Wales Police head of traffic John Hartley had said older drivers were 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 said.

“Their greater years of driving experience on the roads actually makes them less likely to be in an accident.”

Queensland Brain Institute researcher Dr Jaqueline Liddle, who researches the impact of retirement from driving, said age was not a good indicator of skill.

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

Media outlets have quoted Assistant Commissioner Hartley as saying drivers over the age of 70 were at more risk than young people of dying in an accident.

Professor Pachana said this was true, but was not due to older people being worse drivers.

“The NSW police are confusing the greater vulnerability to injury with driving skills,” she said.

“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 aged 75 and over are required to have annual medical checks, and some states require drivers over 85 to pass practical exams every two years.

Dr Liddle said 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 said the UQDrive program endorsed the following list of tips from retired drivers, for older people considering their driving future.

  • Start to think about your options early: While you 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.

Media: Dr Nancy Pachana, n.pachana@psy.uq.edu.au, 0405 790 054; Casey Fung, c.fung@uq.edu.au, 3346 7887.